Iceland’s Foreign Minister Contradicts Israel’s Statement

Katrín Jakbosdóttir, Bjarni Benediktsson

Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson refused to call the Israeli Defense Forces’ operation on the refugee camp Jabalia an “attack” even though the IDF itself had called it such. In a press conference in Oslo earlier this week, Bjarni described the event as “a matter of how you approach it.” The parties in Iceland’s coalition government seem to be having trouble agreeing on a stance on the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

At a press conference in Oslo, a reporter from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) asked Bjarni how he would describe the attack on Jabalia refugee camp carried out by Israeli forces. Bjarni responded: “If you’re asking me to give a response on an attack on a refugee camp, then you’re saying there was an attack on a refugee camp.” When the reporter rephrased his question, Bjarni continued: “It’s a matter of how you approach it. As I see it, there is a fight going on against terrorists. And anything that happens as we have seen in the media in the refugee camp is just horrific. Something that should always be avoided. It is against international law. But you cannot take this out of the context. That there are terrorists actively now fighting the Israelis, and they still are. And there is some response because of that. And we’ve seen many examples where the terrorists use civilians as shields and that is what makes things extremely complicated. So what we are seeing in the media is horrific. It’s extremely saddening. And this is why we are calling for a humanitarian pause to the conflict.”

Over 100,000 live in the Jabalia refugee camp, which has been the target of Israeli strikes since October 9. It was struck again on October 31, killing at least 47 Palestinians and trapping more than a hundred beneath the rubble. The Indonesia Hospital said most casualties were women and children. Israel asserted that it had killed a Hamas commander in the attacks.

Rift between coalition parties

The Icelandic government has faced criticism for abstaining from a UN vote on a ceasefire in Gaza last Friday. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir expressed regret over the lack of support for the resolution and admitted that communication between ministries was inadequate. Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson stated that he had not been consulted on the vote in the United Nations General Assembly.

Iceland abstaining from the vote on a ceasefire is yet another example of how divided the parties within Iceland’s governing coalition are, Professor of Political Science Eiríkur Bergmann told RÚV. “This is, of course, a very unusual issue, that there has been such a rift in the government over an issue this serious,” Eiríkur stated.

A Matter of State

Evrópuráðið Harpa Reykjavík Pólítík

It’s a cold spring day in Reykjavík and winds buffet optimistic tourists in flip-flops. Above, the sky hangs low, an endless expanse of grey. Normal enough for May. Today, however, bulletproof, black limousines loiter in front of Harpa and reports of cyberattacks filter out of Alþingi. A helicopter belches shimmering-hot wakes of exhaust as it […]

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Iceland Opens Embassy in Poland

minister of foreign affairs iceland

Foreign Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir is in Warsaw today for the opening of Iceland’s embassy there.

In a statement to Morgunblaðið, the minster said: “”The deep respect and friendship that exist between Iceland and Poland is of great value to Iceland, and it is with pride that I take part in opening our embassy in Warsaw on the day of Icelandic Sovereignty.”

In her statement, she also pointed out that Poland has had an embassy in Iceland since 2013, and that some 20,000 Polish citizens reside in Iceland, accounting for 40% of all immigrants in Iceland.

Read more: Iceland to Open Embassy in Warsaw this Autumn

The minister also stated:

“Today the Icelandic embassy in Warsaw will be opened, on the day Icelanders celebrate their sovereignty in 1918. Around the same time, at the end of 1918, an independent and sovereign Poland was rising from the ruins of the First World War. Iceland recognized the Republic of Poland in January 1922 – exactly a century ago – and diplomatic relations officially began in 1946.

Since the end of the Second World War, the relations between the countries have been strong and growing in many areas. The most important thing in my mind is that a large number of people from Poland and of Polish origin have enriched Icelandic society by settling here for a longer or shorter period of time. […]

Poland has had an embassy in Iceland since 2013, and our relations on many joint platforms are exemplary. However, it is not just to maintain reciprocal relations I made the decision to open an embassy in Warsaw, but I recognize the fact that Poland is one of the leading countries in Europe in cultural, political, scientific and economic terms.”

Read more about Iceland’s Polish community here.

 

Iceland Closes Airspace to Russia

Iceland

The Icelandic government has decided to close its airspace to Russian aircraft. RÚV reports that Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir announced the decision via Twitter on Sunday morning, “in solidarity with Ukraine.”

Iceland was one of several Nordic countries to close its airspace to Russia over the weekend; Denmark, Sweden, and Finland announced that they would be doing the same on Sunday. Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania have also closed their airspace to Russia and Germany has announced its intention to do so as well. It’s expected that Russia will face a total EU airspace ban shortly.

Iceland condemns Russia’s ‘brutal and unprovoked attack’ on Ukraine, sends €1 million in aid

Þórdís Kolbrún has made a number of public statements condemning Russia’s assault on Ukraine in recent days. On February 24, the first day of Russia’s invasion, Þórdís Kolbrún gave an official statement, stating that Iceland condemned “in the strongest possible terms, the brutal and unprovoked attack of Russia on Ukraine.” She continued: “Russia’s action is a flagrant violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, and is in full contradiction to the Helsinki Final Act.” That same day, she tweeted that Iceland would be sending €1 million [ISK 141.19 million; USD 1.13 million] in humanitarian support to Ukraine.

The next day, she urged the Council of Europe to suspend “Russia’s right of representation in the Council of Europe with immediate effect.”

According to information from the Foreign Ministry, Iceland will also be revoking special privileges that have been afforded Russians coming to Iceland via existing bilateral agreements, such as simplified visa processing for Russian diplomats, businesspeople, politicians, and government representatives. The ministry has emphasized, however, that these moves are “not directed at general Russian tourists, students, or others,” whose visa applications will continue to be reviewed as per usual.

Iceland’s airspace patrolled by NATO

Iceland’s airspace is patrolled by NATO as part of an ongoing mission, called Icelandic Air Policing, which is meant “to establish air surveillance and interception coverage over Iceland and maintain the integrity of NATO airspace.” NATO members maintain a periodic presence of fighter aircraft from the former US military base at Keflavík. Icelandic Air Policing typically involves member nations deploying fighter aircraft to patrol Iceland’s airspace three times a year, for periods of three to four weeks at a time.

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.”

 

Iceland and UK Reach Short Term Brexit Agreement

Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson.

Iceland and the UK reached a trade agreement yesterday which allows trade to continue unchanged between the countries if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, RÚV reports. Though the agreement is temporary, Iceland’s Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson says he is hopeful relations will continue to be good between the two countries. The contract is set to be signed next week.

“It’s been some time since we concluded the agreements if they [leave the EU] with a deal. What we had concluded if they went out without a deal was air travel and citizens’ rights. But merchandise trade was left and now that’s been completed and we will be signing it soon,” stated Guðlaugur Þór. “The next project is the future arrangement in relations between the UK and Iceland.”

The contract in question is a short-term solution meant to ensure the continuation of trade between the countries. Nevertheless, Guðlaugur Þór stated, “We have been very pleased with relations with the Brits and expect nothing but a good outcome for the future relations of the nations.” Agreements yet to be made between the UK and EU could affect Iceland-UK relations.

NATO Sends 6,000 Marines to Reykjavík This Week

Eight hundred soldiers will head to Þjórsárdalur valley in the southern highlands of Iceland to participate in NATO exercises this weekend, RÚV reports. According to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the exercises are not military in nature, rather involve a hike along pathways through the valley, and should not cause environmental damage.

The exercise will take place over two days and is a typical winter exercise for NATO forces. Each day, 400 soldiers will hike through the valley with equipment in order to experience cold climate conditions.

NATO exercises will also take place in Sandvík, Southwest Iceland this Wednesday and at Keflavík airport’s security area, where 400 US soldiers will practice landing and around 120 will practice responding to an attack on the Icelandic Coast Guard’s headquarters.

The Sandvík exercises are part of a larger NATO exercise called Trident Juncture 2018 which will take place mostly in Norway. The exercise is NATO’s biggest in recent years, involving 50,000 participants from 31 NATO countries and others. Around ten ships from NATO’s maritime forces carrying some 6,000 marines will arrive in Reykjavík next weekend from the US, Britain, Denmark, and Canada for an organisational conference on the exercise. The ships will continue on to Norway on Sunday.

New US Embassy But No Ambassador

A new home for the US embassy in Iceland is set to be completed in Reykjavík next summer, RÚV reports. There is no word, however, on when the position of ambassador will be filled. The post has been unoccupied for 572 days, since the departure of Robert Barber.

“All work in the embassy is proceeding according to routine under the leadership of the deputy ambassador,” the embassy’s public affairs officer Oscar Avila stated. Avila added that there is no way of knowing when the next ambassador to the country will be appointed.

The projected cost of the new embassy building is ISK 6.7 billion ($62m/€55m). The building design includes bullet-proof glass in all windows and thick security walls around the property.

This is the third time Icelanders have had to wait for an ambassador for a long period. Nine years ago, Robert S. Connan was appointed to take over the position from Carol Van Voorst, but never took on the position. Eventually Luis Arrega was appointed to the post, arriving in Iceland one year and nine months after Voorst left.

Robert Barber’s appointment was a political one on the part of Former President Barack Obama. He therefore was forced to resign from the position when President Donald Trump took power. Upcoming midterm elections in the United States may further complicate the appointment of the country’s next ambassador to Iceland.

The US Embassy is one of 28 in Iceland which currently has no ambassador. Others in the group are Angola, Andorra, Venezuela, Guinea, Kosovo, and Macedonia.

Prime Minister to Discuss Disarmament at NATO Summit

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is attending her first ever NATO Summit today, RÚV reports. Katrín said she will discuss security issues in a broad context at the summit, which takes places in Brussels, Belgium today. Katrín is attending the event as Iceland’s prime minister, but also the chairperson of the Left-Green Movement, a party which opposes Iceland’s membership in the organisation.

Katrín was the first NATO leader to arrive at the organisation’s new headquarters for the meeting today. She told RÚV she would use the opportunity to bring up disarmament and NATO’s 2010 declaration on the issue. “I will of course talk about a number of important issues which I believe should be discussed here at the NATO Summit and I mention specifically disarmament,” Katrín stated. “Here of course a resolution was approved in 2010 that there should be a policy of disarmament and I will review that in my speech.”

Preparations for the 2018 NATO Summit have been characterised by disputes about member states’ contributions to national defense, with some speculating solidarity among the organisation’s members is weakening. “There is a lot of thought about what the US President will say at this meeting,” Katrín remarked. “He has been sending various national leaders letters about increased defence contributions. What I know will come up is that most nations are increasing their defence contributions, so we’ll have to see what happens.”