US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson this morning in Reykjavík’s Harpa Conference Centre. The two held a press conference after the meeting, where reporters questioned Blinken on the ongoing violence in Gaza, US military presence in Iceland, and Russian activity in the Arctic. Secretary Blinken is in Iceland to attend the ministerial meeting of the Artic Council, which takes place tomorrow and Thursday.
Blinken arrived at Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre in downtown Reykjavík shortly after 10.00am this morning, where a group of protesters had gathered outside the building. Individuals held signs with slogans including “USA, stop arming apartheid!” and “Free Palestine” at the protest, which was organised by the Association Iceland-Palestine.
Gratitude for Icelandic Defence Efforts
At the press conference following the meeting, both Guðlaugur Þór and Blinken underlined the longstanding friendship between Iceland and the United States. In Blinken’s words: “Iceland and the United States are allies and trusted partners. We have a friendship that stretches back to 1944, when we were proud to be the first country to recognize Iceland’s independence.” The Secretary commended Iceland on its leadership in gender equality and praised it as an “example to the world of what is possible in renewable energy.” He added that the United States were “grateful” for Iceland’s co-operation in defence issues, pointing out that the US-Iceland bilateral defence agreement marked its 70th anniversary earlier this month.
Grilled on Israel and Palestine
Reporters pressed Blinken on the ongoing violence in Palestine and Israel, which the two officials stated they had discussed during their meeting. Blinken referenced US President Joe Biden’s statement that “Israel, like every country, has the right to defend itself against attacks.” He added, however, that the US’ goal is “to bring the current cycle of violence to an end as quickly as possible.” Both Guðlaugur and Blinken articulated their nations’ support for a two-state solution in the region.
When asked how the US justified blocking a proposed UN statement that would condemn the violence in Gaza and call for a cease-fire, Blinked answered: “First, I think it’s important to note that we are engaged in quiet but very intense diplomacy in an effort to de-escalate and end the violence and then hopefully move on to build something more positive in its wake. That’s involved and continues to involve dozens of phone calls and engagements with Israelis and Palestinians [and other parties].” He insisted that by blocking the resolution the US was “not standing in the way of diplomacy” and questioned whether the statement would “actually advance the goal of ending the violence or moving to a better place.”
“Rotational” Military Presence in Iceland
An Icelandic reporter at the press conference inquired whether the US was considering establishing a more permanent military presence in Iceland and Greenland. Blinken stated the country planned “to continue to maintain the US presence on a persistent rotational basis,” adding that any changes to current operations “are closely co-ordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all NATO allies.” He added that the upcoming NATO summit in June would be an opportunity “to think about and work on NATO’s future.” Both Blinken and Guðlaugur Þór emphasised that the purpose of the Iceland-US alliance was defensive.
Goal of Peaceful Co-operation in Arctic
Throughout the press conference, Blinken underlined the importance of maintaining peace in the Arctic as it becomes an increasingly “strategic” area. According to Blinken, the Arctic “must remain an area of peaceful co-operation.” Blinken stated that he was looking forward to meeting Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later in the week and discussing the Arctic, among other issues. He expressed concern at “increased military activities” in the region on the part of Russia, saying they undermined the goal of peaceful co-operation. “I think what we need to avoid is a militarisation of the region,” Blinken stated. Guðlaugur added that the Arctic “should be a low-tension area like it has been.”
Blinken’s agenda for the rest of the day includes meetings with Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson. He will also visit Hellisheiði geothermal power station, where he will learn about the CarbFix carbon fixation project.