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Viewing cable 08REYKJAVIK199, Iceland's Bid for the UN Security Council

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08REYKJAVIK199 2008-09-12 16:04 2011-01-13 05:05 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Embassy Reykjavik
VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRK #0199/01 2561657
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 121657Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3792
INFO RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK IMMEDIATE 0094
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA IMMEDIATE 0017
RUEHVI/AMEMBASSY VIENNA IMMEDIATE 0021
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE 0003
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L REYKJAVIK 000199 
 
NOFORN 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR P, IO A/S HOOK, IO/UNP, EUR, EUR/NB 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/11/2018 
TAGS: PREL UNSC UN AU TU IC
SUBJECT: Iceland's Bid for the UN Security Council 
 
Classified by: Amb. Carol van Voorst for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1.  (C/NF) Summary:  Iceland's bid for one of two available WEOG 
seats on the UN Security Council in 2009-10 is rapidly drawing to a 
close.  The campaign, hamstrung by a slow start and tepid support at 
home, has found its legs over the last year under the enthusiastic 
direction of Foreign Minister Gisladottir.  Iceland has campaigned on 
a strategy of "every vote counts," but in recent months has taken 
particular aim at competitor Austria.  As a Security Council member, 
Iceland would be generally supportive of U.S. priorities, though 
particular engagement would be necessary on questions of armed 
intervention.  The small size of Iceland's foreign service and lack 
of depth on many issues would force Iceland to look often to its 
friends and neighbors for advice.  Lobbying in other Nordic capitals 
will be of key importance should Iceland win a UNSC seat.  End 
Summary. 
 
Getting a slow start at home and abroad 
--------------------------------------- 
2.  (C) Iceland is one of three candidates for two Western European 
and Other Group (WEOG) seats on the UN Security Council in 2009-10, 
running against Turkey and Austria.  Iceland's bid for a Security 
Council seat did not begin to properly get organized until late 2006 
under then-Foreign Minister Valgerdur Sverrisdottir.  Previous FMs -- 
particularly David Oddsson from 2004-2005 -- did little to win 
support at home or get organized overseas for the effort.  Should 
Iceland fail to win a seat, many supporters of the bid will point the 
finger at Oddsson and the Independence Party as a whole. 
 
3.  (C) Reflecting the ambivalence inside the government, the 
Icelandic public has also split on the issue.  The campaign's cost 
(roughly $3.33 million from 2001 to 2007, with an additional $800,000 
budgeted through October 2008) is an easy target for those who think 
Iceland should have a less activist foreign policy as well as critics 
of government spending, particularly on the left end of the spectrum. 
 However, even some close to the Prime Minister's Independence Party 
and in favor of a robust foreign policy have told PolOff that they 
are dubious that Iceland can effectively carry out the 
responsibilities of a UNSC member.  Under current FM Ingibjorg Solrun 
Gisladottir, who has made winning a UNSC seat a priority, polls show 
support for Iceland's candidacy is only 46 percent, with 36 percent 
against. 
 
Every vote counts...but especially if we take them from Austria 
------------------------------------------- 
4.  (C) Valgerdur Sverrisdottir made the campaign more of a priority 
than her predecessors during her 2006-2007 tenure as Foreign 
Minister, but it still gained little traction.  Foreign Minister 
Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir took several bold moves immediately 
after her arrival in May 2007 at the ministry.  Pledging to make the 
UNSC campaign simultaneously cheaper and more effective, Gisladottir 
appointed a special envoy to head the effort and allowed her to 
assemble a dedicated team.  FM Gisladottir also began a series of 
high-visibility trips to regions outside of the usual 
Nordics-U.S.-Europe circuit: since May 2007, she has gone to the 
Middle East five times, and Africa three times, as well as making 
visits to the Caribbean and Afghanistan. 
 
5.  (C/NF) Senior MFA officials as well as working-level officers in 
the UNSC campaign office have told post that in addition to the FM's 
travel, the ministry as a whole is racking up frequent-flyer miles. 
Rather than targeting strategic countries to influence a whole 
regional bloc, the Icelandic approach has been one of stumping for 
each and every vote -- a huge strain on a foreign service of only 205 
people worldwide.  In a July 2 meeting with Ambassador, Permanent 
Secretary Gretar Mar Sigurdsson allowed that the campaign "has been 
bloody hard for us," as he described having to spend the better part 
of a week on a Pacific islands trip to counter Micronesia's 
declaration of support for Austria. 
 
6.  (C/NF) Austria is Iceland's main target in the campaign.  Though 
Ministry officials declined to confirm this directly, the tone and 
content of MFA pitches to Ambassador and visiting USG officials 
indicate that they believe Turkey is a sure winner, but Austria's 
dubious economic and energy ties to Iran and Russia may create an 
opening for Iceland.  Iran's nuclear efforts are likely to be the 
most significant challenge to the UNSC in 2009-2010, MFA PermSec 
Sigurdsson has argued to Ambassador and visiting U.S. officials, and 
Iceland has neither the problematic history of dealings with Iran nor 
the economic exposure that Austria does.  Beyond substantive 
concerns, Icelandic officials have also accused Austria of unfairly 
leveraging Vienna's role as host to multiple UN agencies, and were 
incensed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's comments in May 2008 
apparently supporting Austria's bid -- in their eyes, another sign of 
shady campaigning by Austria. 
 
7.  (C/NF) The "every vote counts" perspective has also influenced 
Icelandic performance on other foreign policy issues over the last 
year.  Increased ties to the Middle East have translated into 
contacts with both Syria and Iran.  Similarly, Iceland has appeared 
reluctant to annoy Russia on recognition of Kosovo and the conflict 
with Georgia.  Though in both cases Iceland eventually lined up with 
USG views -- recognizing Kosovo within a couple of weeks of 
independence and eventually calling in the Russian Ambassador here 
regarding events in Georgia -- there were some questions as to 
whether the UNSC bid made the MFA more gun-shy than it might 
otherwise have been. 
 
What would UNSC member Iceland do? 
---------------------------------- 
8.  (C/NF) Iceland has made a principled case for a UNSC seat based 
on its impeccable democratic credentials, support for the UN system, 
and the idea that all UN member states should have the chance to sit 
on the Security Council.  What it has not done is present a concrete 
picture of what kind of Security Council member (and chair) it would 
be.  Post's analysis is that Iceland would be generally in agreement 
with USG priorities.  Some disagreements do exist, and the FM's 
discomfort with the use of military force would require strong 
engagement on questions of intervention.  Iceland's initiatives would 
closely mirror the interests of FM Gisladottir: Iceland would work 
for progress on the empowerment and security of women, the broader 
concept of human security, and possibly even environmental security 
concerns. 
 
9.  (C/NF) In approaches to USG officials, Iceland has consistently 
appealed to the history of our bilateral relationship and our common 
membership in NATO.  Post believes that our close defense ties and 
the U.S. treaty obligations as Iceland's first defender in war -- 
notwithstanding the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iceland 
in September 2006 -- and Iceland's voting record at the UN would 
translate into a commonality of views on most issues.  We have 
consistently been on the same side of human rights issues in the UNGA 
Third Committee and the UN Human Rights Council, and Iceland has been 
a staunch supporter of U.S. efforts on UNSCR 1820 on the security of 
women in conflic and the UNGA declaration on Prisoners of 
Conscince. 
 
10.  (C/NF) Areas of disagreement do exist which may be exacerbated 
by Iceland's lack of amilitary and the Foreign Minister's personal 
discmfort with the use of force.  Iceland shares a broad European 
skepticism on USG policy towards Cuba, and has not voted our way on 
the Cuba embargo resolution.  Similarly, Iceland has followed the 
Nordic line on anti-Israel resolutions in recent years.  On Iraq, the 
previous Icelandic government pledged its political support to the 
invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later sent personnel in support of 
explosive ordnance disposal and the NATO Training Mission-Iraq. 
However, FM Gisladottir campaigned in the 2007 elections on a pledge 
of "removing Iceland's name" from the Coalition of the Willing and 
called back the lone Icelander at NTM-I.  Beyond simple opposition to 
the Iraq war, FM Gisladottir's views are colored by the fact that 
Iceland has no military, which she thinks gives Iceland a unique 
moral role, as an honest broker and example, in  world affairs.  This 
does not translate into a complete opposition to armed intervention 
-- under Gisladottir, the MFA has maintained financial and logistical 
support for NATO operations in Afghanistan -- but it means that 
Iceland will need to be fully convinced that diplomatic efforts have 
run their course. 
 
11.  (C/NF) A final complication is the tiny size of Iceland's 
foreign service, which greatly limits both the information at hand as 
well as the ability to process that information.  The International 
Organizations Department Head noted wryly to PolOff that until now, 
Iceland had the luxury of deciding which issues to follow, but that 
this will come to a swift end in October should Iceland be voted in. 
The MFA's Security Council campaign office has carefully examined the 
UNSC experience of Costa Rica, another comparatively small state 
without an army.  Much of the expense of the UNSC campaign stems from 
the expansion of the permanent mission in New York; current plans are 
to double the size of the mission to 20 diplomats should Iceland win 
election.  Given that this is nearly 10 percent of Iceland's total 
diplomatic corps, the entire personnel transfer season for this year 
is on hold pending the vote results. 
 
12.  (C/NF) In practical terms, this means the Icelanders will look 
more than usual to their Nordic colleagues for background and advice 
on key issues.  A division of labor across issues already exists, 
according to MFA contacts and the Norwegian Embassy in Reykjavik, and 
the Norwegians are expecting to be asked for quite a bit more help. 
This stems both from the traditionally close relationship between the 
two countries as well as the warm ties between FMs Gisladottir and 
Stoere.  Though Iceland has formally abandoned a previous proposal to 
dual-accredit other Nordic diplomats at the UN, Nordic ties and 
collaboration in New York and capitals will be very close if Iceland 
wins its bid.  For the USG, this will mean that engagement in other 
Nordic capitals will take on new significance in influencing 
Iceland's position. 
 
13.  (C/NF) Comment:  Despite some policy differences and the 
challenges of working with such a short-staffed diplomatic corps, 
Post is confident that Iceland would work closely and productively 
with us on the Security Council.  Iceland is a member of NATO with 
impeccable diplomatic credentials, and its default worldview is 
generally in line with U.S. values and priorities. 
 
VAN VOORST