Cablegate: Ambassador's Meeting with Liberal Democrat Leader


DE RUEHLO #0086/01 0151430
R 151430Z JAN 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 000086



EO 12958 DECL: 01/13/2020

REF: 09 LONDON 2569

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

1. (SBU) Summary. Ambassador Susman paid an introductory call on Liberal Democratic Party leader Nick Clegg on January 12. Clegg may find himself cast into the role of kingmaker if neither of the two main parties wins an outright parliamentary majority in the upcoming general elections, -- though Clegg refused to be pinned down as to what his party would do in the event of a hung parliament. Clegg stressed the tremendous amount of “goodwill” his party has for the Obama Administration, raising no major objections to current U.S. policy objectives and expressing his party’s support for the new strategy in Afghanistan. End Summary.

Overly Optimistic

2. (SBU) Ambassador Susman paid an introductory call on Liberal Democratic Party leader Nick Clegg on January 12. Clegg may find himself cast into the role of kingmaker if neither the Labour nor Conservative parties win an outright parliamentary majority. As he has done recently with the press, Clegg refused to be pinned down as to which party the Lib Dems would support in the event of a hung parliament, insisting instead that his strategy was to “focus on the long term goals.” Despite the fact that current polls indicate that Lib Dems are unlikely to even hold onto the 63 parliamentary seats they currently have, Clegg appeared optimistic that his party would make progress towards his goal of doubling their number of seats.


3. (SBU) Clegg noted that while the Lib Dems have been very vocal in their opposition to coalition efforts in Iraq, his party has always supported military action in Afghanistan. Clegg perceived that “a real page had been turned,” with Obama’s announcement of our new strategy. Clegg particularly welcomed the Obama administration’s increased emphasis on civilian engagement. (Note: Clegg has been extremely critical of HMG’s prosecution of the war effort. Last summer, for example, he wrote in an op-ed that “recent events have led me to question, for the first time, whether we’re going about things in the right way...Our young men and women’s lives are being thrown away because our politicians won’t get their act together.” Reftel outlines senior Lib Dem statesman Paddy Ashdown’s views on challenges in Afghanistan and his belief that Lib Dems were “in for the long haul.”) Ambassador Susman expressed U.S. appreciation for the important contribution made by UK forces, confirmed our long-term commitment, and stressed the importance of reconciliation in our future efforts.

Relations with the U.S.

4. (SBU) Clegg stressed that one “could not overestimate” the “amount of goodwill” his party has for the Obama Administration. He quickly accepted Ambassador Susman’s offer of a briefing on the 2003 extradition treaty. (We believe the Lib Dems misunderstand the facts.) Clegg further noted that of the three major political parties in the UK, the Lib Dems are, and have always been, the biggest supporters of a strong EU. He stressed his belief that the UK had an important role to play in advocating mutual objectives in Brussels. In response to Clegg’s question on key priorities the USG would be looking for from any new British government, Ambassador Susman noted the need for support on the full range of mutually-shared foreign policy objectives including, among others: Afghanistan, Pakistan, MEPP, Iran, China and climate change.


5. (C) Clegg came across as very smooth, a bit like Tory Leader David Cameron. While critical of the previous administration, Clegg expressed considerable admiration for President Obama. He downplayed his party’s likely leverage in the event of a hung parliament or minority government, claiming it was “not as much leverage as people think.” Nevertheless, should the elections bring that result, Clegg’s choices will be critical. Much will depend, however, on whether he can keep his often fractious parliamentarians in line.
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