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Viewing cable 06REYKJAVIK359, Iceland: Press and Politicos Respond to Defense

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06REYKJAVIK359 2006-09-27 18:06 2011-01-13 05:05 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Reykjavik
VZCZCXRO2283
OO RUEHAST
DE RUEHRK #0359/01 2701803
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 271803Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2982
INFO RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO IMMEDIATE 0259
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0231
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY 0034
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 REYKJAVIK 000359 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR P (BAME), EUR/NB (MIDDLETON, MAHER), EUR/PPD 
SECDEF FOR OSD/RA (COSTA), OSD/P (KELSO, HURSCH) 
OSLO FOR DATT 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: MARR PREL KPAO NATO IC
SUBJECT:  Iceland: Press and Politicos Respond to Defense 
Agreements 
 
REF: REYKJAVIK 357 
 
REYKJAVIK 00000359  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
1. (SBU) Summary: Icelandic press reaction to the Prime Minister's 
September 26 announcement of the results of defense talks with the 
U.S. (Reftel) has been measured and largely favorable.  Opposition 
party expressions of discontent center on two points: 1) the 
Government's failure to make public the details of U.S. plans for 
the defense of Iceland; and 2) complaints that the USG has "escaped" 
from full responsibility for any environmental mitigation costs. 
Post will continue to work with the media to fill in gaps in their 
knowledge and correct erroneous reports.  End Summary. 
 
 
2.  (U) Media reporting on September 27, the day after Prime 
Minister Geir Haarde's announcement of the outcome of defense talks 
with the U.S. (reftel) was largely straightforward and accurate. 
Daily newspaper-of-record Morgunbladid (generally pro-government but 
viscerally critical of the U.S. decision to withdraw forces) ran its 
lead editorial under the headline, "A New Chapter": 
 
--After the U.S. conveyed its unilateral decision in March about 
departure of military forces, Iceland was put in a difficult 
negotiating position; 
 
--Icelandic authorities have done well under the circumstances and 
have ensured the nation's interests are protected; 
 
--The most controversial issue is that the U.S. doesn't have to pay 
for environmental clean-up; 
 
--The deal provides that the U.S. is responsible for defending 
Iceland, according to the 1951 Defense Agreement, even if means of 
providing that defense are not what Icelandic authorities wanted; 
and 
 
--The time has passed when Iceland could have relied solely on 
others for defense. 
 
 
3. (U) The lead editorial in the high-circulation Frettabladid 
(which generally leans toward the opposition and is often skeptical 
of USG policy) appeared under the headline, "Back on Highway One" 
(i.e., back on track), and commented: 
 
-- Iceland retains a clear defense policy that ensures security of 
the nation, in which the U.S. plays the key role; and 
 
--It would have been irresponsible for the GOI to have abrogated the 
1951 Defense Agreement (note: as some, including former PM David 
Oddsson, have suggested should have been done). 
 
4.  (U) The PM and key members of his Independence Party continued 
their media efforts as well: 
 
-- Haarde appeared on multiple TV news shows to reiterate and 
amplify the message from his initial press conference that the 
agreements ensure Iceland's continued defense, represent the best 
available outcome for both sides, and point to the way ahead for 
Iceland-U.S. security relations. 
 
--Minister of Justice Bjorn Bjarnason (comment: an early critic of 
the U.S. withdrawal; end comment) said he was pleased with the 
agreements and that people were "making too much of" environmental 
concerns regarding the base.  Bjarnason (comment: one of Iceland's 
most security-conscious leaders; end comment) also voiced enthusiasm 
for increased police and counterterrorism exchanges between the U.S. 
and Iceland. 
 
-- Parliamentarian Bjarni Benediktsson, a rising leader of the next 
generation of the Independence Party, was trotted out on the talk 
show circuit to declare that the agreements secured the defense of 
Iceland and set the stage for future cooperation. 
 
 
5. (SBU) Opposition figures also tried to get their views out, 
though they garnered less coverage: 
 
--Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, chair of the leading opposition 
Social Democratic Alliance simultaneously welcomed the fact that 
there will be no foreign military forces stationed in Iceland during 
peacetime, and criticized the GOI for "leaving the public ill at 
ease" about its safety by agreeing to a "secret" defense plan.  She 
 
REYKJAVIK 00000359  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
further opined that Iceland should have gotten a better deal from 
the U.S. on environmental issues rather than "letting them leave 
without cleaning up." 
 
--Chairman of the (idiosyncratic, largely fishing-oriented) Liberal 
Party Gudjon Kristjansson said the GOI had done as well as it could, 
all things considered, but said he wished more had been done to 
explore closer cooperation with other NATO allies, particularly the 
Nordic states. 
 
6.  (SBU) Comment: The GOI should be - and, our contacts affirm, is 
- pleased with the tenor thus far of media coverage of the defense 
rollout.  Gisladottir's failure to mount a persuasive counterattack 
reflects the discord within the Alliance, which - formed in 2000 
from three disparate parties - has never established a formal policy 
on defense.  Post will continue to work with the media to correct 
errors and fill in knowledge gaps, e.g. by offering data on the 
history of environmental mitigation at NASKEF, and - to counter 
anxiety over the absence of U.S. forces on the island - unclassified 
briefings on the expeditionary doctrine and rapid response 
capabilities of today's U.S. military. 
 
VAN VOORST