21st Sep 2023

Sweden 'embarrassed' by EU behaviour at UN meeting

  • Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt during his country's helm of the EU presidency (Photo: Council of European Union)

The recent Swedish EU presidency was deeply embarrassed by the EU's un-co-ordinated actions at last year's UN general assembly meeting in New York where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a controversial speech, a leaked US diplomatic cable has revealed.

Speaking to a US official a day after US and EU delegates stormed out of the UN meeting in September 2009, Swedish desk officer Iran Ulf Samuelsson confirmed that the Swedish presidency did not leave the room as the red lines agreed upon by the EU-27 had not been crossed, the cable released by whistleblower site WikiLeaks on Wednesday (15 December) indicates.

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Red lines included the denial of the Holocaust or of the right for Israel to exist, but US and most EU delegates walked out after Mr Ahmadinejad suggested that the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks on its crucial landmarks.

The choice was an "individual decision" by those EU states, Mr Samuelsson reportedly told the US official, adding that were Sweden to use the tool "equally," it would have walked out on a number of leaders' speeches at the generally assembly that year.

A second Swedish official Andres Jato said the lack of EU co-ordination was "embarrassing," reports the cable.

The official was listening outside the room with headphones on, ready to give the "pre-arranged signal" for all EU representatives to walk out. Instead he was "surprised" when he saw first the Germans and then other EU delegations stream past him without the agreed-upon red lines having been crossed.

"We look like we can't co-ordinate anything," Mr Jato reportedly lamented.

The fresh revelations come on top of an earlier WikiLeaks release last month which showed EU plans to walk out of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's inauguration ceremony in the Iranian parliament on 5 August 2009 were complicated by doubts over whether the EU representatives would be able to find the door of the unfamiliar building.

Carl Bildt

The driving force behind many of Sweden's foreign policy initiatives during the country's time at the EU helm in the second half of 2009 was foreign minister Carl Bildt.

"A product of the Cold War, Bildt has no time for governments that limit civil liberties or fail to respect territorial integrity; since his days as a young politician, Russia has been a favorite target of his sharp tongue, something that does not always endear him to his EU colleagues," reports a separate US cable, intended as a background briefing on the Swede ahead of a his visit to New York and Washington in September 2009.

Tackling Iran's nuclear ambitions, Middle East peace talks, Afghanistan and Turkish EU accession were among the tricky dossiers the Swedes attempted to push forward, with Mr Bildt generally highly regarded for his vast experience in the foreign policy field.

Other remarks in the leaked cable note the foreign minister as having "little time for small talk" and "a fascination for technology," adding that he can "easily dominate a conversation, lacing his comments with dry humor."

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