76087 8/24/2006 16:07 06BUCHAREST1330 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN 06BUCHAREST1309 VZCZCXRO9966 OO RUEHBC RUEHDBU RUEHDE RUEHFL RUEHKUK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHBM #1330/01 2361607 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 241607Z AUG 06 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5033 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RUEHDE/AMCONSUL DUBAI PRIORITY 0007 RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 001330
STATE PASS EUR/NCE - DAVID KOSTELANCIK
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/24/2016 TAGS: PREL, ECON, ENRG, EPET, PGOV, IR, RO SUBJECT: ROMANIAN, IRANIAN PRESIDENTS AGREE: OILRIG INCIDENT IS COMMERCIAL DISPUTE
REF: BUCHAREST 1309
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Classified By: CDA Mark Taplin for reasons 1.5(b) and (d).
1. (C) SUMMARY. On August 22, Iranian authorities boarded and seized a Romanian-owned oilrig involved in a commercial dispute (see reftel). The rig's owner, Grup Servicii Petroliere (GSP), controlled by controversial business figure Sorin Ovidiu Vantu, allegedly intended to remove the rig from Iranian waters, despite a court order barring such action. Two Romanian diplomats traveled to the rig on August 23, and have verified that the crew of 26 (19 Romanian and seven Indian nationals) is safe and in good health. A small contingent of Iranian officials, including several police officers, a representative of state-owned Petroiran and a translator were also present at the site on August 24. President Basescu spoke by phone with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on August 23 to express his concern for the safety of Romanian citizens on the rig. Both Basescu and Ahmadinejad characterized the event as a commercial dispute. END SUMMARY.
2. (C) In a telephone call with Charge, Director General for Global Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Stelian Stoian related details of an August 23 phone conversation in which Ahmadinejad assured Basescu that Iran wants to maintain good relations with Romania based on their "traditional relationship," an apparent reference to the close ties between the two countries during the Ceaucescu period. According to Ahmadinejad, Iran never had any intention to use military force against civilian personnel, and viewed the matter solely as a commercial dispute. Ahmadinejad assured Basescu that the rig's crew was free to leave if it wished. According to Stoian, Basescu also characterized the incident as commercial in nature, while reiterating his concern for the safety of the Romanian citizens. A subsequent press release from the President's office added that the two Presidents discussed the potential to increase bilateral trade, and that Basescu expressed his "appreciation for the Iranian sides' availability to negotiate its nuclear program with the Group of 5 1." In an unrelated meeting with Charge on August 23, Basescu made it clear that he did not see aggressive intent in Iran's actions, saying "I don't think Iran wants to use Romania to provoke a conflict." Other aspects of the phone conversation will be reported septel.
3. (C) The situation on the rig was calm, Stoian relayed, and the crew was free to leave if it desired. Although his information was inconclusive, Stoian said that he believed warning or "demonstration" shots had indeed been fired into the air by Iranian personnel as they were boarding the rig. According to Stoian, the MFA believes the Iranian side is on "ok" legal ground in its decision to enforce an Iranian court order to prevent the rig from leaving Iranian waters. MFA officials reportedly met on August 24 with GSP's President, Gabriel Comanescu, to discuss the matter. Stoian also noted that there may be a need for the two countries' foreign ministers to consult about next steps in resolving the commercial dispute.
4. (SBU) In public comments on August 23, Iran's Ambassador to Bucharest, Ali Akbar Farazi, criticized Romanian press coverage of the event, saying "Press reports stating that the oil rig Orizont was attacked and the crew arrested are exaggerations and have no connection to reality. The helicopter that allegedly opened fire on the rig was in fact present in order to transmit a judicial order of an Iranian tribunal ruling that neither the Orizont nor the Fortuna had the right to leave Iranian territorial waters." Farazi asserted that the Fortuna, also owned by GSP, had been illegally moved from Iranian waters the week before. He claimed two Iranian employees on the rig had been assaulted and thrown into the water. Farazi alleged that the international mass media was intentionally trying to harm Romanian-Iranian relations.
5. (C) COMMENT: Despite some initial confusion when the story broke, both governments acted quickly to try to dampen inflammatory accounts of the incident and to stress its commercial nature. While most news coverage reflected the commercial nature of the dispute, Romania's version of CNN, Realitatea TV, devoted extensive coverage to the story and to
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GSP's position that the events were an aggressive act against Romania. Both Realitatea TV and GSP are owned by controversial business figure Sorin Ovidiu Vantu. Vantu, reportedly one of Romania's wealthiest businessmen, is under indictment for fraud related to the failure of a mutual fund and two commercial banks in the late '90s. END COMMENT. Taplin