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Cablegate: Observations From a Danish Ambassador's Three

VZCZCXRO3671
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHTRO
DE RUEHRK #0204/01 3211314
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 171314Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4219
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 REYKJAVIK 000204

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/16/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM IR IC
SUBJECT: OBSERVATIONS FROM A DANISH AMBASSADOR'S THREE
YEARS IN TEHRAN

REYKJAVIK 00000204 001.2 OF 002


Classified By: CDA SAM WATSON FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D)

1. (C) Summary and introduction. Charge d'Affaires (CDA) met
November 13 with Soren Haslund, the newly arrived Danish
Ambassador to Iceland, to discuss his time spent in Iran.
Haslund served as the Danish Ambassador in Tehran for three
years, arriving in 2006 and departing the country on July 26,
2009. He was pleased to share his insight with CDA regarding
the political, human rights and infrastructure situation in
Iran. End summary and introduction.

Political Structure
--------------------
2. (C) In a conversation with CDA on November 13, Danish
Ambassador Soren Haslund said that the political structure in
Iran is composed of an incredibly small number of elites,
which includes not just Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also opposition leader
Mir-Hossein Mousavi. There is, Haslund warned, a tendency by
the West to attribute huge differences to those in power and
those in the opposition when, in fact, they are all part of
the same small group. There is no true opposition faction in
Iran, he opined, really only "nuances of black" exist.

3. (C) Haslund termed the relationship between Khamenei and
Ahmadinejad one of "mutual hostages." That is, they have
become almost symbiotically dependent on one another.
Haslund felt that Khamenei had essentially thrown his lot in
entirely with Ahmadinejad and the veterans of the Iran-Iraq
war. This, he suggested, signified something of a change on
the part of the Supreme Leader who previously tried to remain
above the fray and to balance the interests of both those who
served in the Iran-Iraq war and also the old guard who could
trace their roots back to the revolution of 1979.

4. (C) Khamenei, according to Haslund, has an elaborate
structure of civil servants around him. These people, he
continued, are not clerics but rather highly trained
technocrats that serve almost as a parallel structure to
government. They are organized into what Haslund described as
departments but the entire structure, he said, was almost
clan like. These technocrats, whom he estimated numbered
more than 1,000, insulate the spiritual leader. Very few
diplomats were granted meetings with Khamenei. Haslund never
obtained a meeting with the Supreme Leader, though he did
meet with the President on several occasions along with other
diplomats.

5. (C) The entire government structure, according to Haslund,
is corrupt. This includes both the official government as
well as the informal structure that surrounds Khamenei.
There is, he said, a great deal of nepotism but that is
unsurprising considering the large role that clans play in
society. There is also "real" corruption. Haslund cited the
example of how significant profits from state imports and
exports are siphoned off into the religious foundations
called Bonyads. This process, he said, is legal but no one
knows what happens to this money once it is received by the
Bonyads. He said that he had heard, anecdotally, that these
religious foundations could possess holdings worth as much as
nine billion U.S. dollars.

Iran's Place in the World
--------------------------
6. (C) According to Haslund, Iranians consider themselves
religiously, linguistically and ethnically superior to their
neighbors. This Persian arrogance, he argued, plays a large
role in Iran's foreign policy. Iran tends to use proxies and
money to accomplish its regional goals, he said, and would
prefer not to interact with its neighbors face-to-face.
Syria, he had heard, was receiving one billion dollars to act
as just such a proxy for Iran in what he termed a marriage of
convenience between the two countries. Haslund suggested
that Turkey, as a secular country, might potentially serve as
a regional ally for Iran. Somewhat surprisingly, he also
suggested that Israel could eventually become a regional
ally. The Iranians, he said, have no particular hatred for
Israel and the approximately 30,000 Jews that live in the
country are treated well.

7. (C) Haslund also said that most of the Iranians he met
viewed America as the most natural candidate to become a
long-term global ally. For historical reasons, he suggested,
Iran has a deep mistrust of the British and Russians.
America, however, is viewed in a different light. The
Iranians, he joked, have noticed who is responsible for
deposing of Sadam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in
Afghanistan. It does not hurt the United States' reputation
in Iran, he said, to be responsible for having removed two of
the country's greatest enemies.


REYKJAVIK 00000204 002.2 OF 002


Human Rights
-------------
8. (C) The human rights situation in Iran, according to
Haslund, is deplorable. The government is "tightening the
screws on people" and is doing so with impunity. He said
that sometimes human rights dissidents would be involved in
suspicious "accidents" or "disappear." More often, however,
abuses were carried out openly. The government makes a
point of letting everyone know what it is doing and the
people are, understandably, cautious and scared. Haslund
said that when he met with dissidents he never did so at the
Danish Embassy. He would sometimes visit them in their homes
but, more often than not, his wife would pick them up in her
personal vehicle and transport them to the Ambassador's
residence for a meeting. He said that dissidents were often
willing to meet because they believed that increased exposure
would actually make them safer. He met Nobel Prize winner
Shriia Ebadi frequently.

Infrastructure
---------------
9. (C) Haslund said that there were no noticeable effects of
the trade embargo on Iranian infrastructure, which he
described as excellent and up to Western standards. There is
the occasional loss of electricity in Tehran but this only
occurred when there was too little rain and was indicative of
the country's limited hydroelectric capabilities rather than
the embargo. Haslund noted that several of the airline's
passenger jets were outdated but seemed to be holding up in
part because of recent arrival of spare parts. He said that
he flew Boeing 747s, Air Buses, and Tupolevs while he was
there.

Biographical Information
-------------------------
10. (C) Haslund has previously served as Denmark's Ambassador
to Mexico as well as Chief of Protocol for nine years in
Copenhagen. He also served at the United Nations and in
Washington. Haslund speaks fondly of his year as an
undergraduate at Hamilton College in New York.
WATSON

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