Cablegate: Ambassador Travels to Wales, Promotes Trade And

Published: Thu 3 Dec 2009 10:10 AM
DE RUEHLO #2691/01 3371045
R 031045Z DEC 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 002691
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/30/2019
Classified By: Ambassador Louis Susman for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (U) Summary: Ambassador Susman made his first official visit to Wales on November 25, where he met political and business leaders and reached out to the Muslim community. Political leaders told him that Welsh devolution is gaining momentum and reported on Welsh efforts to minimize the effects of the economic downturn. The Ambassador spoke to a group of Welsh companies looking to build trade and investment links with the U.S. and noted that the U.S. is "open for business" despite rumors of protectionism in the wake of the economic crisis. In his meeting with Muslim activists, he heard how Welsh Muslims have succeeded in forging good links with government, but that many, especially young people, face an identity crisis about their place in British society. Welsh Affairs Officer Mark Rosenshield and Embassy intern Scott O'Brien accompanied the Ambassador. End Summary.
First Minister: More Devolution Likely --------------------------------------
2. (C/NF) At their November 25 meeting in Cardiff, outgoing First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who has held the post for all but the first few months since its creation ten years ago, provided a read-out to the Ambassador of the recent All Wales Convention on further devolution. He said the report argued forcefully for further devolution but that the crucial question would be when to hold a referendum to get the Welsh people's support. Morgan also said that the Welsh will be watching Scotland closely as it prepares for a possible Conservative government in Westminster for the first time since devolution began in 1997. Morgan said that a Conservative government might lead to resentment in Scotland and Wales and consequently increase the momentum for increased devolution. (Note: The Conservatives have not traditionally been popular in Scotland and Wales. They are widely seen as anti-devolution and as tending to marginalize Scottish and Welsh interests. End Note.)
Economy Minister: Proactive Approach to Keeping Unemployment Low ------------------------------------
3. (C/NF) Deputy First Minister and Minister for the Economy and Transport Ieuan Wyn Jones told the Ambassador that Wales had acted as proactively as possible under the current devolution agreement to shield the Welsh economy from job cuts. The government brought forward three years' worth of infrastructure spending and provided monetary incentives for companies to keep workers on the payrolls. Jones said this was crucial because in previous recessions companies had shed jobs too quickly and then were unprepared to compete as the economy turned around.
Conservatives Confident of Big Welsh Gain -----------------------------------------
4. (C/NF) Nick Bourne, the Welsh Assembly's Conservative Leader, told the Ambassador that his party was very optimistic about UK general elections in 2010 and is hoping to increase their share from 3 of the 40 Welsh seats to "double-digits." He said the Tories' overall move to the center would attract new voters in Wales and said that Welsh voters are willing to switch parties for the first time in many years. (Note: Bourne's predictions are significant because Wales has been one of Labour's most reliable strongholds. In the 1997 and 2001 elections, the Conservatives did not win a single Parliamentary seat in Wales.) Bourne also predicted that devolution would proceed quickly and Wales would have its own parliament before 2011, at which time he suggested the U.S. should open a consulate in Cardiff. (Note: The request for a consulate in Wales is a familiar refrain.)
Ambassador Encourages Trade and Investment ------------------------------------------
5. (U) The Ambassador and First Minister Morgan both spoke at the inaugural event of the Washington 80 Club, which brings together the eighty businesses that went to the U.S. as part of a trade mission in June 2009 to coincide with Wales being featured at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Speaking to a crowd of approximately 150 business people, government officials, and academics, the Ambassador noted the many links between the U.S. and Welsh economies and forcefully stated that the U.S. is "open for business," contrary to rumors that the U.S. had resorted to protectionism during the economic crisis.
Welsh Muslims Praise Cooperation with Government, Stress Need for Continued Progress --------------------------------------------- ---
6. (C/NF) The Ambassador met with eight Welsh Muslim community leaders to hear how their communities differ from other Muslim communities in the UK and to learn about Welsh Muslim concerns. Saleem Kidwai, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Wales (MCW), said Muslims had been impressed by President Obama's Cairo speech and that this had motivated Muslims to try to reciprocate. He quoted a prophetic saying that if someone makes one step towards you in peace you should take two steps toward him in return. He noted that the MCW had entered into a partnership agreement with the Welsh Assembly Government, the Welsh Trade Union Congress, an interfaith group, and with a number of local government councils and said that these links help the Welsh Muslim community maintain better relations than other Muslim communities in the UK have with their non-Muslim neighbors. Shaykh Abdullah Yassin, director of the Islamic Social Services Association, said his group was the first of its kind in Europe and could provide a model for addressing some of the problems facing Muslim communities.
7. (C/NF) Three members of Muslim Youth Wales (MY Wales) said that Muslim youth, even those born in the UK, are questioning how they fit into British society, noting that this identity crisis had worsened since September 11, 2001. They said that students faced stereotyping from the authorities (for instance, at universities and airports) that made them feel they are not fully accepted in the UK.
Wales Entering Uncharted, Difficult Period ------------------------------------------
8. (C/NF) Comment: The Embassy will continue to monitor Welsh politics closely. Rhodri Morgan's successor will take a struggling Labour party into the UK general election in 2010. The Welsh Labour leader could well emerge as the only Labour leader, with Westminster, Northern Ireland, and Scotland led by non-Labour parties if current polling is correct. The new leader will also have to carve out a policy on a devolution referendum, something the party promised to deliver before the 2011 Welsh elections but over which it is deeply divided. And UK-wide budget cuts expected in 2010 will be especially difficult in Wales, where government spending is a much higher percentage of the economy than in other parts of the UK. End Comment. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX
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