Cablegate: Scenesetter: Your Visit to London January 27-29

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EO 12958 DECL: 01/22/2020

Classified By: Ambassador Louis Susman for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C/NF) SUMMARY: We are delighted to welcome you back to London for the conferences on Afghanistan and Yemen this week. PM Brown is our strong ally on both issues, despite some early difficulties in coordinating conference details with us, especially in regard to Yemen. He assured me that they were mistakes made “in good faith” and that his team is now sensitized to the need for close consultation. Brown genuinely wants the Afghanistan conference to result in substantial movement on our agenda with Kabul and the international community. But he also likely hopes to burnish his image as a world leader with the British voting public. UK general elections must take place by June (most believe they will be held on May 6). With his Labour party trailing in the polls by some 10 to 13 points, Brown faces an uphill battle. But it will be a battle largely on domestic issues; Afghanistan is not the lightening rod for Labour that Iraq was in the UK’s 2005 polls. Though public support is tepid, the opposition Conservatives support UK military involvement and will continue to do so.

2. (C/NF) Your visit is an opportunity to underscore the importance of progress in Afghanistan to international security and demonstrate the continuing value of the U.S.-UK “special relationship.” Your personal involvement in Northern Ireland issues is well-known; Shaun Woodward is looking forward to discussing the latest developments with you. My staff very much appreciates that you have set aside valuable time to meet them; the Embassy team is really looking forward to it. I also suggest you tape a segmant for the widely-viewed Andrew Marr Sunday morning show. END SUMMARY.

UK Gearing Up for Elections

3. (C/NF) Our contacts are confident PM Brown will call for UK general elections on May 6, the same day as local elections are already scheduled. PM Brown easily survived an early January challenge to his Labour leadership by a few disgruntled MPs, but it highlighted party divisions and weakened his standing in the polls. Those divisions remain, and have, on occasion, caused a disconnect between the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister’s office. However, while the election will largely be fought on domestic issues, (Brown is touting his leadership in preventing an economic meltdown and restoring growth), the pre-election atmosphere affects the approach of both major parties to global challenges -- and their relationship with us.

4. (C/NF) Since Labour and the Conservatives largely agree on the importance of continued UK engagement in Afghanistan, electoral differences over foreign policy will appear on two fronts: history and resources. Public hearings in the on-going inquiry into the UK’s highly unpopular involvement in Iraq have bitten Labour hard as members of the Brown government defend their decisions under former PM Blair (Blair is expected to appear before the public inquiry January 29). PM Brown has volunteered to appear himself prior to elections to defend his own decisions on resources and his advice to Blair while Chancellor of the Exchequer under Blair. Resources for foreign affairs and defense will be an electoral theme, as Conservatives promise unspecified budget cuts to reduce the deficit. Both parties are committed to increasing official development assistance to 0.7% of GDP -- in line with the Millenium development goals. Pakistan and Afghanistan will remain a major focus of assistance; under a Conservative government that could even increase. But since both parties accept the need for deficit reduction, funds will likely be scarcer for all projects -- defense or civilian -- in coming years. Both Labour and Conservative leaders agree on the need for a Strategic Defense Review, shortly after the election, to analyze defense priorities and to match resources to these priorities.

Foreign Police Priorities as Elections Approach
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5. (C/NF) Afghanistan and Pakistan are key priorities for PM Brown. Despite tepid public support, Brown pledged additional troops ahead of the President’s December announcement (which Brown strongly welcomed). Brown is open about the fact that he would like other NATO allies and the
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Afghans to assume a greater share of combat operations, stressing that the U.S., UK and a handful of others have borne the brunt of the fighting. Brown and his close advisors view the January 28 London Conference as a venue for Karzai to confirm the pledges he made in his inaugural address and to provide momentum to international efforts to support Afghan stability. Brown also proved flexible on his original candidate for NATO’s senior civilian administrator, making our preferred candidate available.

6. (C/NF) In our recent conversation, PM Brown acknowledged early mis-steps over the Yemen conference -- but since then we have coordinated closely on our goals and objectives. There is no formal agenda for the two-hour meeting on January 27. PM Brown plans to give opening remarks, followed by the Yemeni PM. Foreign Secretary Miliband will then take over. Discussion will be based on three themes: shared analysis of the challenges, political and economic reform, and improved donor coordination. FM Miliband is hosting a lunch for GCC members prior to the meeting. He hopes GCC members will deliver the difficult messages on reform that he fears they will not want to deliver in front of the larger group.

7. (C/NF) On other foreign policy issues, our close cooperation continues. The UK agrees with our approach on Iran sanctions, shares our commitment to a robust counterterrorism agenda, and supports our non-proliferation objectives (U/S Tauscher will hold consultations with the Pakistanis in London on February 1). The government’s commitment to the Middle East peace process is behind its efforts to ensure that universal jurisdiction concerns are addressed so that Israeli officials can travel to the UK. The UK government has made stabilizing Somalia a priority and recently increased its programming to GBP 35 million (USD 56 million). In addition, the UK works closely with us on Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe.

8. (C/NF) PM Brown may take the opportunity to discuss Northern Ireland with you during your visit; he appreciates your personal involvement. At the moment, the situation is in flux; we expect a clearer view within 48 hours. Brown has pressed hard for renewed progress on devolution of policing and justice. You will also have an opportunity to review progress with Brown’s Northern Ireland minister Shaun Woodward during your stay. As we write, the situation is fluid, with the two sides meeting on Monday in Belfast, and PM Brown meeting PM Cowan in London.

Public Diplomacy

9. (C/NF) On the public diplomacy side, I hope you can take some time out to tape an interview with leading British journalist Andrew Marr, to be broadcast on his Sunday morning BBC TV talk show. The program, which reaches 1.5 million live and millions more on the web, is essential weekend viewing for Britain, often setting the week’s news and political agenda for the nation. The program could be taped at your hotel, at my residence or at the BBC studios in West London. It would be a powerful way for you to set out our priorities for Afghanistan/Pakistan, and underline our premier partnership with the United Kingdom. Marr is a congenial and knowlegable interviewer who will offer maximum impact for your investment of time.
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