There are almost no surprises about US/Iceland relations in the latest Wikileaks infodump of diplomatic cables, although some stories are indeed revealing.
As has been reported, Wikileaks has released thousands of diplomatic cables – frank exchanges between diplomats around the world – all with varying levels of secrecy. Kristinn Hrafnsson, a Wikileaks staffer in Iceland, confirmed for reporters that nearly 300 of these cables are between the US and Iceland, some of them involving Icelandic officials trying to convince the US not to close the NATO base, which would eventually happen in 2006.
Very little of what has been revealed in cables between the US embassy in Iceland and other US State Department officials would come as a surprise to most Icelanders, although some stories are getting more attention than others.
Perhaps the most talked-about development is what appears to be American attempts to influence how the Icelandic government planned to write their energy tax law, in the hopes that it could be more beneficial for American aluminium companies. The cable shows embassy official Sam Watson detailing how directors of both Alcoa and Century Aluminum expressed concerns to him about a possible tax hike. Watson, in turn, contacted ministers in the Icelandic government and relayed these concerns. He concludes that his talks had an influence, as the proposed tax hike never happened.
Icelandic politicians were quick to deny that US officials had any influence over them. Minister of Finance Steingrímur J. Sigfússon told RÚV that any time a bill is put forward, different interest groups are going to seek to lobby their cause, but the ultimate decision on the energy tax had nothing to do with US influence.
Most everything else in the diplomatic cables about the US and Iceland shows what would pretty much be expected: that the US embassy follows current events in the country closely, whether it was the Icesave referendum or local politics, and that US officials believe it is important that their country maintain a positive image in the minds of Icelanders.
However, another story that has caught the attention of Icelandic officials is the revelation that US officials believed the Chinese were engaging in industrial spying in Iceland, in particular in the medical fields and even at deCODE. Kári Stefánsson, the director of deCODE, has told RÚV that allegations of spying will be thoroughly investigated.