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Cablegate: Netherlands/Balkenende: Pm Optimistic About The

VZCZCXRO3686
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK
DE RUEHTC #2597/01 3470948
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 130948Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7668
INFO RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 1696
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/CJCS WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 THE HAGUE 002597

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/02/2026
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM ECON IR RU NL
SUBJECT: NETHERLANDS/BALKENENDE: PM OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE
FUTURE

REF: THE HAGUE 2544

Classified By: A...


89263,12/13/2006 9:48,06THEHAGUE2597,"Embassy The
Hague",SECRET,06THEHAGUE2544,"VZCZCXRO3686
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK
DE RUEHTC #2597/01 3470948
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 130948Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7668
INFO RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 1696
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/CJCS WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE","S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 THE HAGUE 002597
SIPDIS
SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/02/2026
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM ECON IR RU NL
SUBJECT: NETHERLANDS/BALKENENDE: PM OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE
FUTURE
REF: THE HAGUE 2544
Classified By: AMBASSADOR ROLAND E. ARNALL FOR REASONS 1.4(B/D).

1. (S) SUMMARY: During a December 12 meeting with Ambassador
Arnall, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Pieter Balkenende expressed
satisfaction with his party's strong performance in the
November elections, and predicted a centrist-coalition
government could be in place by February. According to
Balkenende, the Dutch two-year commitment to Uruzgan will not
be affected by ongoing coalition negotiations, and will be
honored by the next government. Having raised Dutch concerns
with Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki on December 7,
Balkenende expressed irritation with the Iranian's
""diplomatic speech"" and his ""unacceptable"" comments on the
Holocaust. Separately, Balkenende's senior foreign policy
advisor confirmed that the Prime Minister is directly engaged
in trying to resolve Shell's ongoing dispute with the Russian
government over Sakhalin, and claimed the Russians are
""trying to squeeze us like a lemon."" Despite the uncertainty
about the next government, Balkenende appeared comfortable
with the current situation, optimistic about the future, and
confident in his leadership role. END SUMMARY.

CENTRIST GOVERNMENT BY FEBRUARY?
--------------------------------

2. (C) Ambassador Arnall complemented the Prime Minister on
his successful election campaign. Balkenende acknowledged
that he had -- once again -- defied expectations by leading
the Christian Democrats (CDA) to remain the largest party in
Parliament, when ""six months ago, everyone expected the next
Prime Minister to be Wouter Bos"" (head of the opposition
Labor Party, or PvdA). The recent elections had overturned
many assumptions about Dutch politics; the CDA, for example,
had done better than usual among young voters and in urban
areas than in the past. Unfortunately, however, the
electorate's unexpected swing to the extreme right -- Geert
Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) and extreme left -- Jan
Marijnissen's Socialist Party (SP) -- was now complicating
the process of forming a coalition. Balkenende's preferred
coalition partner -- the conservative Liberal Party (VVD) --
had run a bad campaign and suffered from internal power
struggles, so was no longer in the running.

3. (C) Balkenende said he was ""not unhappy"" that attempts to
form a coalition with PvdA and SP had collapsed, since there
was no realistic chance of CDA and SP governing together.
This opened the door to the possibility of a ""centrist""
coalition between CDA, PvdA, and one of the smaller parties
-- most likely Christian Union or GreenLeft. Balkenende
suggested that such a coalition could be in place by
February, although this would depend on how long it took for
Wouter Bos to convince his membership to support such a
coalition; the process could conceivably drag on past the
provincial elections in March. Although he clearly felt that
it was up to the PvdA to make most of the concessions
necessary to join a coalition government, Balkenende
acknowledged that the SP's surprisingly strong showing posed
a real dilemma for the PvdA leadership, since they now faced
a serious challenger on their left flank.

AFGHANISTAN COMMITMENT REMAINS FIRM
-----------------------------------
4. (C) Ambassador Arnall asked Balkenende how the coalition
negotiations might impact the Dutch deployment to Uruzgan.
Balkenende responded emphatically that it would be
""impossible"" for a future government to renege on the
two-year Dutch commitment to the region. The fact that SP
wanted to withdraw Dutch forces sooner, he added, was one
reason why the CDA could not join them in a coalition
government. PvdA, he said, had the same view as the CDA in
this regard, as they had supported the original decision to
deploy troops for two years.

5. (C) Turning to the Riga summit, Balkenende said that he
was generally pleased that NATO had sent a strong signal of
support for the Afghan mission. The willingness of some
countries, such as Norway and Poland, to increase their
contributions was also encouraging. On the other hand,
Balkenende expressed concern about Canadian Prime Minister
Harper's domestic political situation and its possible impact
on the Canadian deployment to the south. He noted that he had
also had intense discussions with German Chancellor Merkel,
who had made clear that German forces would be available to
THE HAGUE 00002597 002 OF 002
support others in extremis.

""STRANGE"" MESSAGE FROM IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (C) Balkenende described his short December 7 meeting
with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki as ""strange.""
He had raised Iran's destabilizing role in the region,
support for terrorism, human rights violations, and nuclear
ambitions. On the latter, Balkenende stressed that Iran must
comply with its IAEA obligations if it is serious about
negotiating a positive outcome to the current situation.
Mottaki, according to Balkenende, had responded with
non-substantive ""diplomatic speech."" More disturbingly, in
their discussion on the Middle East, Mottaki had made
comments on the Holocaust which Balkenende found
""irritating,"" ""terrible,"" and ""absolutely unacceptable.""
Although the Netherlands has a good economic dialogue with
Iran, Balkenende concluded, he had sent a ""very clear""
message about Dutch concerns.

SAKHALIN-SHELL: RUSSIANS ""SQUEEZING US LIKE A LEMON""
--------------------------------------------- --------

7. (S) As Ambassador Arnall was leaving Balkenende's office,
Karel van Oosterom -- Balkenende's senior foreign policy and
defense advisor -- confided that Balkenende was following
closely Shell's ongoing dispute with the Russian government
over Sakhalin. Van Oosterom dismissed recent press reports
claiming the issue was settled, saying their release was just
a Russian negotiating tactic. Shell, he stressed, has not
agreed to any settlement; on the contrary, the chairman of
Shell had visited van Oosterom that day to complain that the
Russians had given him ""an offer he couldn't refuse."" Van
Oosterom -- who served in China previously -- joked that,
while the Chinese could ""threaten with a straight face,"" the
Russians ""laugh when they give an ultimatum -- then tell you
what they really want."" He reiterated that the Dutch were
not impressed with the ""mafia-style"" Russian approach and
understood that Russia wanted to ""squeeze Shell like a
lemon."" On the other hand, Russia was in a much stronger
position now than when the original deal was signed, and knew
it. Van Oosterom did not speculate on what next steps might
be, but stated that Shell and the Prime Minister were now
""studying"" the Russian proposal.

COMMENT:
--------

8. (C) Balkenende joked at the start of the conversation that
he is currently holding three jobs -- Prime Minister, CDA
faction leader in Parliament, and chief CDA negotiator in the
coalition talks. If this situation is causing him stress,
however, he did not let it show during the meeting. On the
contrary, Balkenende was clearly in command of his portfolio
and seemed positively invigorated by the challenges before
him. He also obviously relishes the prospect of heading the
next Dutch government -- which would be his fourth in as many
years. Once dismissed as a ""Harry Potter"" clone with no
charisma, Balkenende has made a career out of defying
expectations -- and appears, once again, to have proven his
doubters wrong.
ARNALL

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