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Viewing cable 09REYKJAVIK204, OBSERVATIONS FROM A DANISH AMBASSADOR'S THREE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09REYKJAVIK204 2009-11-17 13:01 2011-01-13 05:05 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Reykjavik
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