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Cablegate: Icelandic Foreign Minister's Meeting with Charge

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SUBJECT: ICELANDIC FOREIGN MINISTER'S MEETING WITH CHARGE
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6. (C) Skarphedinsson also spoke about defense issues
including the closure of the Icelandic Defense Agency (IDA).
Acknowledging the government's focus on Icesave, he
nevertheless expressed optimism that a decision on IDA's
future would come by year end. Some of the IDA's duties
would likely transfer to the Coast Guard, which falls under
the Ministry of Justice. He hoped, however, that most
defense matters would remain with the MFA. He stressed that,
no matter how the reorganization turns out, Iceland will
continue to uphold its NATO obligations. When speaking of
NATO commitments, the minister specifically stated that
Iceland intends to take part in the Northern Viking exercise
in 2010. (Comment. This information contradicts rumors we
heard earlier that Iceland was considering postponing next
year's Northern Viking exercise as a cost-saving measure. End
comment.)

7. (C) The Minister said that Iceland also remains committed
to the effort in Afghanistan. He said that, while he
personally has concerns about the prospects for the war in
Afghanistan, the Icelandic government understands its
responsibility to contribute as a NATO member. Iceland has
no intention, he said, of completely withdrawing its
personnel from Afghanistan and has never even discussed it as
an option.

8. (C) Noting the occasional activity of Russian planes in
Iceland's air space, Skarphedinsson said he could not
overstate the importance of the High North. The Russians, he
claimed, have specifically stated that the High North is a
top strategic priority. Skarphedinsson then, bluntly, used
the High North discussion as an opportunity to chastise the
U.S. for closing down the Keflavik Airbase in Iceland. The
decision, he said, was "a bloody mistake." He noted that he
understood the reasoning behind the decision and the need to
reduce costs, but believes that the U.S. should have
maintained some sort of presence in Iceland to protect its
interests in the High North.

EU Accession Process
---------------------
9. (C) Regarding Iceland's bid to join the EU,
Skarphedinnsson said that everything is progressing smoothly.
Iceland should have answers for the EU accession
questionnaire by the EU's November 16 deadline.
Skarphedinsson believes that this deadline was intentionally
set to ensure that Iceland's candidacy cannot be evaluated at
December's European Council summit. Delaying consideration
until spring would avoid the perception that Iceland's
membership is fast-tracked at the expense of other
candidates. The most likely scenario, he opined, is that
Iceland's membership application would be discussed at the
March summit of the European Council and that accession
negotiations will begin soon afterwards.
WATSON

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