Icelandic Ministers Condemn Attack on Democracy in United States

Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Iceland’s foremost government officials took to Twitter last night to condemn the attack on the United States Capitol. The building was breached by hundreds of Trump supporters, many of them armed, as the ceremonial counting of electoral votes took place confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

Attackers Egged On By Trump, Says Prime Minister

As reports of the attack were published last night, Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir tweeted: “An attack on Capitol Hill is an attack on democracy. We are witnessing disturbing scenes of violence in Washington DC. Liberty, democracy and decency must be respected.”

The Prime Minister later shared her reactions to the event in an interview with RÚV. “We’re talking about an attack on the parliament building and an attack on democracy and I was of course incredibly stunned when I saw the first reports of it,” she stated. “There we are seeing this great institution that is simply about to confirm the results of a democratic election and it is attacked at the urging of the outgoing president.” Katrín added that it was important that representatives returned to work and finished confirming the election, standing their ground in that regard. She called the attackers’ actions “anti-democratic.”

Icelandic President, Ministers Address Attack

Katrín was not alone among Icelandic officials to condemn the attack. Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson tweeted last night: “Shocking scenes in #WashingtonDC. Any attacks on #democratic institutions and undermining of rule of law should be condemned. Outcome of democratic elections must be respected.” Around the same time, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir tweeted: “The events in USA unfolding now are an affront to democracy. @realdonaldtrump must condemn the mob and demand they cease the violent protests and leave the Capitol.” Minister of Tourism, Industry and Innovation Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir added her words to those of her colleagues, calling it “sad and surreal to watch this attack on democracy.”

Iceland’s President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson was more subtle in his discussion of the events. Guðni tweeted this morning: “As Congress confirms election of @JoeBiden, I reiterate my congratulations to the next President of the United States, legally elected by the people. 1000 year old wisdom from Althing, world’s oldest nationwide parliament, still true: If we tear the law apart we tear peace apart.”

 

Eight Percent of Icelanders Would Vote for Trump

Just under eight per cent of Icelanders who responded to a recent survey stated they would vote for Trump in the upcoming US election if they could cast a ballot, Fréttablaðið reports. Nearly 82% stated they would vote for Biden. Eight per cent did not know who they would vote for and just under 3% chose not to answer the question. The survey was conducted by Zenter for Fréttablaðið newspaper, and its results are in line with other European countries, according to one Icelandic political scientist.

“Icelanders have always supported the Democrats over the Republicans, as Europeans [have] in general,” stated Eiríkur Bergmann, professor of political science at Bifröst University. He adds, however, that Europeans’ distrust of Trump is greater than has ever been the case for any Republican president. “We need to look back to the situation around George W. Bush during the invasion of Iraq to find something close to this. But Bush was still more popular than Trump.”

More Icelandic Men than Women Support Trump

The survey results showed a significant gender difference: 14% of male respondents said they would vote for Trump while only 4% of female respondents stated they would. Support for Trump increased with age, with the exception of the very youngest age group (18-24). Trump enjoyed the most support from Icelanders aged 65 and older, though still just 15% of that age group stated they would vote for him if they could vote in the US election in November.

Centre Party Supporters Most Likely to Vote Trump

Respondents’ political affiliation in Iceland also showed some correlation with their support of each US candidate. Not a single respondent who supports the Social-Democratic Alliance, nor a single supporter of the Progressive Party stated they would vote for Trump. Those who supported the Centre Party were most likely to say they would vote for the sitting US president, though they were still in the minority within their party. While 55% of the Centre Party’s supporters stated they would vote for Biden, 45% preferred Trump.

The Centre Party was formed when a group of politicians split from the Progressive Party in 2017. Eíríkur stated the survey “shows there was a real difference between those who left the Progressive Party and joined the Centre Party at the time,” and points to the split being rooted in ideological differences rather than simple party politics.

The survey was sent to 2,500 individuals between September 23 and 28, and had 1,281 respondents (51%).

Ambassadorial Tweet Denounced as ‘Deeply Offensive’

US Ambassador to Iceland Jeffrey Ross Gunter drew the ire of American nationals and Icelanders alike when he retweeted a presidential tweet that referred to COVID-19 as the “Invisible China Virus.” A petition demanding that the ambassador issue an apology to the people of Iceland has since received over 300 signatures.

“We are United in our effort to defeat the Invisible China Virus,” wrote President Trump in his July 20 tweet. Ambassador Gunter copied the exact same phrasing to describe COVID-19 when he retweeted it from his official ambassadorial Twitter account.

The tweet garnered a great deal of criticism, with commenters variously remarking “This won’t fly in Iceland,” and “Calling the Covid-19 virus ‘China virus’ is extremely ethnocentric,” and “Viruses do not have nationalities.”

Following the tweet, Elizabeth Lay, an American living in Iceland, started a petition denouncing the name “Invisible China Virus” as “deeply offensive and hurtful.” The petition continues: “The name, given by Trump, perpetuates racism and does not represent the viewpoint of the majority of Americans and Icelanders, nor does it represent the spirit of America.”

“We denounce Ambassador Gunter’s racist and divisive remarks in a time when unity is needed and demand that he apologize to the people of Iceland.”

Iceland Among Countries Facing US Travel Ban

Iceland flag national team

US President Donald Trump has suspended entry to the United States to all foreign nationals who have been within Europe’s Schengen Area for the last 14 days, reports the New York Times. Iceland is among the 26 countries affected by the 30-day travel ban, which will go into effect on Friday at midnight.

According to an announcement on the US Department of Homeland Security website, the travel ban “suspends the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States.” In addition to Iceland, the Schengen Area includes Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The ban does not extend to legal permanent residents of the US, or immediate family members of U.S. citizens.

The travel ban is expected to have a significant economic impact on Iceland, not least because it’s expected that fewer US citizens will travel abroad in the coming weeks or months after an advisory issued by the US State Department urged Americans to “reconsider travel abroad.” The majority of tourists who visit Iceland come from the US, Kjarninn reports, with 464,000 US citizens visiting the country in 2019.

In an email sent early Thursday morning, Icelandair encouraged employees in a position to take unpaid leave to do so: “In this context, we would like to ask those employees who are interested in, or who see an opportunity in, taking unpaid leave during the coming months; are about to take maternity or paternity leave (and are interested in extending their leave); or can foresee working fewer hours; to discuss such options with their superior officers before noon on Friday.

Despite the predicted negative impact of the travel ban, CEO of Icelandair Group Bogi Nils Bogason stated that the company’s liquidity was strong, adding that he did not foresee having to accept assistance from the government: “We are determined to get through this and that will be our goal over the coming days.”

US Considering Free Trade Agreement With Iceland

Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and US Vice president Mike Pence led a US-Icelandic Business Roundtable.

The Trump administration is considering a free trade agreement with Iceland, Axios reports. This comes on the heels of Vice President Mike Pence’s Iceland visit, during which Pence warned Iceland not to rely on Chinese technology and praised their decision not to participate in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, although no such decision had been made.

According to the Axios report, it isn’t Iceland’s economy that’s tempting the Washington leaders, but the country’s strategic location. The President’s national security team has apparently emphasised the importance of investing in the region. The idea of a trade agreement was floated at a Senate GOP lunch last Tuesday, according to Axios, where Pence reportedly told those in attendance that a working group was exploring a deal and that he was “amenable” to the idea. Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson has made no secret of his wish for a free trade agreement with the US.

According to Axios, the intention of the trade agreement would be to encourage an alliance with the US, instead of Iceland building relationships with Russia and China. Iceland has had a free trade agreement with China since 2014 and when Vice President Pence congratulated Iceland on not participating in the Belt and Road initiative, both the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs quickly corrected him, stating that while Iceland hadn’t yet agreed to participate, no decision to decline participation had been made. China’s Ambassador to Iceland Jin Zhijian has called the Vice President’s comments on the Belt and Road Initiative and Huawei “malicious slander” and “fake news.”

PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir to Miss Meeting With Pence

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir will be attending the convention of Nordic trade unions when the official visit of USA vice president Mike Pence takes place. Katrín will hold the keynote speech at the convention while Pence’s visit is scheduled for September 2. Pence will stop in Reykjavík before heading to the United Kingdom and Ireland. His visit will focus on the geographical importance of Iceland in regards to the Arctic. Pence will also place emphasis on NATO operations to quell Russian activity in the area, as well as fostering and strengthening the business and investment relationship between Iceland and the USA.

“It was already known that I was offered to be the keynote speaker at the annual convention of the Nordic trade unions a long time ago, and like everyone knows I’ve never been one to shy away from labour market matters. It’s also been clear that the visit, which was planned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has been moving back and forth on the calendar so it has been difficult to plan around it,” Katrín said in an interview with RÚV.

Criticised visit
Opposition leaders have criticized Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson from the Independence Party, as he did not disclose that one of the main reasons for the visit was to discuss the geographical importance of Iceland in relation to the Arctic. Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir, an MP from the eco-socialist Vinstri Græn, stated that the matter is unfortunate for the party. Rósa is a party colleague of Katrín. Furthermore, LGBTQ organization Samtökin 78 had criticized Pence’s visit on the grounds that his rhetoric and actions are anti-LGBTQ.

Katrín stated that her absence from the meeting has nothing do with the criticism. “No, not at all. However, we have a lot of projects to tend to. I had a good meeting with Mike Pompeo, the United States Secretary of State, earlier this year and likewise had a conversation with Donald Trump at a NATO meeting last year. I can assure everyone that when Mike Pence arrives in Iceland – I just hope the date is final now – that he will meet with Iceland’s finest leaders,” Katrín stated matter-of-factly.

When asked if it would have been expected that Katrín re-schedule for the VP, Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór had previously stated that he sees nothing wrong with Katrín’s absence. “It’s not always easy to [re-schedule], so I believe there is no reason to make it seem suspicious that she has other plans which were decided long in advance.”

USA to invest in Iceland
It was revealed recently that the United States Air Force will increase their activities significantly in Iceland, investing in facilities at Keflavík airport for around ISK 7 billion (€50m, $56m). The construction means that the US Air Force has facilities to operate two fighter squadrons at all times, ensuring that there are 18 to 24 fighter jets ready for operation. It is believed that this is to increase submarine surveillance in the North Atlantic and the Arctic. Along with this, Icelandic authorities will invest ISK 300 million (€2.1m, $2.4m) for maintenance of NATO facilities at Keflavík airport. Iceland was a founding member of NATO in 1949.

Icelandic Government Backs Venezuela’s Juan Gauidó

Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson

Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has declared that he and the government of Iceland support Venezuela’s Juan Gauidó in his opposition to President Nicolás Maduro’s government, RÚV reports. The country has struggled in recent years as poverty and crime have reached an all-time high while its economy suffers and its system of governance has turned dangerously unstable.

Juan Guaidó is the leader of the disenfranchised Venezuelan legislature who on January 23 declared himself the president of the country, causing uproar amongst Maduro’s supporters.

Maduro, who succeeded president Hugo Chavez following the latter’s death in 2013, has proved a controversial figure, as Venezuela struggles with hyperinflation, food and medical supply shortages and exceedingly high crime and murder rate. Three million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, according to a United Nations report, with numbers expected to reach 5 million by the end of the year.

“This has been a long time coming,” Guðlaugur Þór says. “We know what the situation in Venezuela is. In a country that is rich in resources, its current state is dire. The rightfully elected National Assembly [led by Juan Gauidó] has been stripped of its power. As things are now, the country is more akin to a dictatorship.”

The European Union and many countries around the world have demanded a new election in Venezuela and American president Donald Trump has threatened military intervention if the country’s situation remains unchanged.

Trump has denied Maduro’s request for direct talks who in turn has warned that Venezuela could turn into another Vietnam for the US, should the country intervene in Venezuela’s affairs.

As of now, Nicolás Maduro still has the support of Venezuela’s military, with Juan Gauidó making a concerted effort recently to turn their allegiance in his favour.

Trump Appoints US Ambassador to Iceland

United States President Donald Trump has appointed Jeffrey Ross Gunter as ambassador to Iceland, RÚV reports. The post has been unoccupied for one and a half years since the departure of Robert Barber.

Gunter is a doctor and speaks Spanish, French, and Dutch in addition to English. He has been a strong supporter of Donald Trump, contributing financial donations to his election campaign. Gunter is also on the Board of Directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The United States Senate has yet to approve the appointment. A new home for the embassy is currently under construction in Reykjavík, complete with bullet-proof glass and thick security walls around the property. The building is projected to cost ISK 6.7 billion ($62m/€55m).