American-Austrian Tensions: US Diplomats Gripe over Vienna's Limited World View

American diplomats in the Austrian capital expressed "frustration," extreme disappointment and concern about the country's politicians. Cables obtained by SPIEGEL indicate deep dissatisfaction in Washington about the limited interest Austria's chancellor and foreign minister have apparently had for foreign policy.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann (second from left) and his wife and EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Catherine Ashton at the Vienna Opera Ball: No interest in foreign policy? Zoom
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Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann (second from left) and his wife and EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Catherine Ashton at the Vienna Opera Ball: No interest in foreign policy?

Around 1,700 of the reports written by the US Embassy in Vienna, which were provided to SPIEGEL, indicate that the relationship between the United States and Austria was tense in recent years. In the cables, the US diplomats repeat several times that they were "frustrated," "extremely disappointed" or "concerned" about their Austrian counterparts.

Referring to Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, they write: "It has become clear that Faymann has no personal interest in foreign affairs." In the US diplomats' view, Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger "has seemed to focus largely on economic penetration" for Austrian business interests. Defense Minister Norbert Darabos, the cables continue, is not just "uninterested in foreign and international security policy," but is also "openly hostile to deploying Austrian troops on dangerous missions abroad."

In addition to offering negative assessments of Austrian politicians, the cables reveal a number of issues that contributed to tensions, including Austria's refusal to accept any prisoners released from the Guantanamo detention camp and the business relations between a few Austrian companies and Iran and North Korea. The cables repeatedly mention the state-owned energy company OMV, firearms manufacturer Steyr-Mannlicher and the Raiffeisen Banking Group.

In 2006, two representatives of Raiffeisen Bank were asked to explain to the US Embassy their role as trustees for a natural gas deal with the Russian-Ukrainian joint venture RosUkrEnergo. According to the report, the two managers said that "Russian and Ukrainian leaders were fully involved … Putin and Yushchenko know everything about (the) RUE" gas deal. The US ambassador criticizes the Austrians' role in the deal, saying: "It was hard not to suspect that the Trusteeship was simply a fig leaf to cover an unsavory arrangement."

On the whole, the US diplomats conclude that in their host country there is a "gap between Austria's self-proclaimed vision of itself in the world, and its increasingly limited performance."

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Reaction from the US Government
In a statement, the White House has condemned the publication of "private diplomatic discussions" with foreign governments by SPIEGEL and four other international media on Sunday. Click on the link below to read the statement in full.
White House Statement
We anticipate the release of what are claimed to be several hundred thousand classified State Department cables on Sunday night that detail private diplomatic discussions with foreign governments.

By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions. Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world.

To be clear -- such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government. These documents also may include named individuals who in many cases live and work under oppressive regimes and who are trying to create more open and free societies. President Obama supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal.

By releasing stolen and classified documents, Wikileaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals. We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.

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