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07PARAMARIBO540 2007-10-10 20:14:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paramaribo
Cable title:  

FIRST-EVER CABINET LEVEL VISIT TO SURINAME, SECRETARY GATES MEETS PRESIDENT VENETIAAN

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1. (C) SUMMARY. In this unprecedented half-hour meeting
in Paramaribo between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and
Surinamese President Ronald Venetiaan, participants
discussed the overwhelmingly positive week-long visit of
the hospital ship, USNS Comfort, as well as the importance to
Suriname of this first-ever U.S. Cabinet level visit.
Venetiaan also mentioned the historically friendly bilateral
relationship dating from WWII, and current difficulties
associated with changing times: the global war on terror,
economic issues associated with accession to the WTO, and
global environmental concerns. Both Venetiaan and SecDef Gates
expressed satisfaction with the positive state of USG/GOS
military-to-military relations, with Secretary Gates noting
the planned New Horizons infrastructure support mission in
2008. Gates also pledged continued support through IMET
and FMF. Secretary Gates expressed hope that the GOS would
sign an article 98 agreement with the USG if, as Venetiaan
stated in his October 1 annual speech to Parliament, Suriname
would become a signatory to the International Criminal Court
(ICC) in 2008. Although acknowledging his desire to sign a
bilateral agreement (Article 98) with the USG prior to
becoming an ICC signatory, Venetiaan emphasized that this
would be politically sensitive, and entreated Gates for
flexibility. Gates also raised the U.S. Army Yuma Proving
Grounds proposal to establish a tropical test center in Suriname.
The discussion closed with both Gates and Venetiaan
acknowledging Suriname's dark days of 1980s military
dictatorship, the importance of democracy and respect for
the rule of law, and the further professionalization of Suriname's
military. End Summary.



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First-Ever U.S. Cabinet Level Visit to Suriname


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2. (SBU) Conducted in the Presidential Palace in Paramaribo,
Suriname, the half-hour October 6, 2007 meeting between
Secretary Gates and Surinamese President Venetiaan was the

SIPDIS
fortunate consequence of USNS Comfort being present in Suriname
for the final leg of its 4-month, 12-country deployment. As
the Defense Secretary had traveled to Suriname to express
appreciation to the staff, crew and medical personnel
aboard the Comfort, the Republic of Suriname reaped the
unprecedented benefit of a U.S. Cabinet level visit to
this tiny South American nation.

U.S. participants:
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

SIPDIS
LTG Peter Chiarelli (USA) Senior Military Assistant
Paul McHale, ASD, Homeland Defense & American Security Affairs
Lisa Bobbie Schreiber Hughes, U.S. Ambassador to Suriname (notetaker).

Surinamese participants:
President Runaldo Ronald Venetiaan
Defense Minister Ivan Fernald
MinDef Permanent Secretary Dennis Kamperveen
Central Intelligence and Security Agency (CIVD)
Chief Colonel Johan Ceder



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That was then; this is now: Surinamese President describes
the bilateral relationship


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3. (SBU) President Venetiaan joined Defense Minister Fernald in
praising the visit of the hospital ship USNS Comfort, noting that
many Surinamers had benefited in a good, positive way.
Venetiaan further acknowledged the honor of such a high-level
U.S. delegation visiting Suriname, noting that the MOD was very
pleased with the SecDef visit, and that Suriname's military
looks to continue good cooperation, particularly through
the U.S. Southern Command. (Note: indicative of the importance
he placed on the Gates visit, Venetiaan had elevated security
arrangements by assigning responsibility to the Chief of
Surinamese Defense Forces Colonel Ernst Mercuur, an unprecedented
step.)

4. (SBU) Reaching back through history, President Venetiaan
highlighted SurinameQs strategic importance to the United
States starting from WWII and continuing through the Korean War,
when U.S. aircraft landed at the (U.S.-built) international
airfield at Zanderij, 48 kilometers south of Paramaribo.
Economically, Suriname's rich bauxite deposits allowed
partnership with the U.S. through ALCOA subsidiary SURALCO
(Surinamese aluminum had been critical to the war effort).

5. (C) Turning to the present, Venetiaan let his political
biases show, noting that times have changed: global strategies
and the war against terror bring expensive requirements for
airport and harbor security. Economically, Suriname struggles
to cope with WTO rules and requirements, and encounters
difficulty with subsidies on commodities (e.g., rice)
imposed by richer economies. Also of concern for Suriname
is maintenance of the global environment. In this context
the GOS is pleased that the U.S. is now joining the global
environmental struggle; more industrialized countries still
have to come forward to do their part. As for Suriname, 50%
of the forest interior is being preserved for biodiversity
and oxygen production.



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The U.S. is here to help, but also needs Surinamese cooperation:
Secretary Gates describes the relationship, future opportunities

SIPDIS


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6. (SBU) In response, Secretary Gates noted that the crew of
USNS Comfort had been proud to partner with the Ministries of
Health and Defense to provide health care to the community.
It was fitting that Suriname was the last stop on the
Comfort's 4-month, 12-nation deployment, during which over
100,000 people were helped. Of course, programs such as FMF
and IMET continue to help; the SecDef assured Venetiaan and
Fernald that he wants to continue these programs. The New
Horizons infrastructure support program will be the next
big humanitarian mission to Suriname, scheduled for 2008.
Partnership with Suriname also included collaboration in the
fight against narcotics and arms trafficking, and terrorism.
Also proposed for President Venetiaan's approval is a tropical
test facility in Suriname, where the U.S. Army Yuma Proving
Grounds would be able to study how army equipment and vehicles
are able to function in a jungle environment. This would be
a limited facility, but could provide additional opportunities
to strengthen the relationship. Secretary Gates went on to
note that one obstacle to further mil-to-mil collaboration
comes from the U.S. Congress and its requirement that the
USG sign Article 98 agreements with all countries that are
signatories to the International Criminal Court (ICC). He
acknowledged the USG understands that such agreements can
be politically delicate, stated the USG is prepared to be
patient, and assured Venetiaan that DoD humanitarian
support programs would continue, even in the absence of
an Article 98 agreement.



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President Venetiaan: Suriname needs the U.S., and wants to
cooperate on Article 98, but the issue is politically difficult


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7. (SBU) Venetiaan confirmed that Suriname is, in fact,
in the process of joining the International Criminal Court
(ICC): Members of Parliament are pushing for it; given our
recent history (a reference to the military dictatorship
of the 1980's), we also think we must join. The Surinamese
President confirmed that he and others (likely Minister of
Defense Fernald) advocated signing an Article 98 agreement
before acceding to the ICC, but cautioned that any such
decision would first require Parliamentary approval.
Venetiaan noted that the GOS will look to the USG for
assistance to help Suriname through this process, and
relayed his understanding that some countries had received
a waiver from the U.S. in their discussions on possible
constructs for the agreement; what factors could be included,
and what could perhaps be excluded.

8. (C) By way of explanation for his willingness to accede to
an Article 98 agreement (something which otherwise would appear
to run counter to his natural predispositions), Venetiaan
admitted that Suriname needs the United States if the country
encounters heavy weather. This was probably a reference to
the flooding emergency that Suriname encountered in 2006, and
for which the USG provided assistance. From experience with
its traditional donor, the Dutch, the GOS knows that lengthy
GON parliamentary procedures impede quick action. Consequently,
Suriname needs to keep the United States as a partner.
The Surinamese President went on to note that his annual
October 1 statement to Parliament recognized the good initiatives
from the U.S. military in the area of health care. Venetiaan
coyly maintained that his reference to U.S. support balanced his
public recognition in that same speech of other support
(i.e., Cuban-provided, Venezuelan-funded eye care through
Operacion Milagro).



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Gates and Venetiaan: Partnership to further strengthen democracy
in Suriname is good; both recall 1980s military dictatorship


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9. (SBU) The SecDef observed that it was interesting to be in
Suriname, reminiscing that he had been Deputy Director of the
CIA when Suriname was not a democracy, prior to 1992. Gates
congratulated Venetiaan on the progress made in establishing
a democracy, and acknowledged that the military is working hard
to become ever more professional. Venetiaan agreed that his
country had gone through dark times, noting that Suriname must
still take care of some aspects left unresolved from that period
(referring to the upcoming December 1982 murder trial, now
scheduled to begin November 30). The Surinamese President
said that the accused would (finally) be brought before the
court, and taken to task for their part in those dark moments.
But, he added, we are still pleased that our country
has an army serving a democracy. So far, since 1988-1992,
we've kept things (democracy) on track. We place great
importance on democratic rule and the rule of law. We think
your visit also will be seen in that context Venetiaan was
likely alluding to the Gates visit as possibly useful to the
GOS in sending a message to Desi Bouterse, infamous ex-military
dictator, current Parliamentarian, and prime suspect in the
December 1982 murders, that there is international support
for the long-delayed trial to go forward).



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AmbassadorQs Comment


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10. (C) The importance for Suriname of Defense Secretary
GatesQ meeting with President Venetiaan, although admittedly
not the primary reason for the visit, cannot be overstated.
In this tiny nation which hasn't received high level USG
policy attention since the dark days of the 1980's and
Desi Bouterse's military dictatorship, Suriname's
democratically-elected government has consistently maintained
a standoffish, subtly disapproving attitude towards the U.S.
Significantly, President Venetiaan reached back to the 1940's
and 50Qs for examples of close, collaborative relations
between our two countries. Today, he is more likely to
highlight positive relations with Cuba, Venezuela, and China.

11. (C) It is precisely for this reason that the
goodwill visits of Secretary Gates and the USNS Comfort
are so important for Suriname, and the region. Although
tiny, Suriname is a participating member of the UN, OAS,
CARICOM, NAM, and the Islamic Conference. The attitude
of the Surinamese President is likely replicated in many
other tiny, similarly-situated nations. Although biases
such as Venetiaan's will not change in the short term, our
longer term strategy is to demonstrate our goodwill through
deeds. Our ultimate objective is to transform our bilateral
relationship into an overall positive partnership. The visits of
Secretary Gates and the USNS Comfort provide important bricks in the

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foundation for this long-term strategy. End comment.

12. (U) ASD HD & ASA Paul McHale has reviewed this cable.


SCHREIBER HUGHES