Meeting with US Secretary Cancelled

Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson’s scheduled meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been cancelled, RÚV reports.

Guðlaugur Þór had intended to seek an exemption to the US’s travel ban for Iceland. However as more and more countries close their borders and the US extends its travel ban to include the UK and Ireland (both of which were previously exempted), most such meetings have been cancelled.

In the days since the US closed its borders to foreign nationals from Europe’s Schengen area, other countries, such as Denmark, Norway, Poland, and Russia, have put similar measures in place. At the time of writing, there were no travel restrictions for tourists entering Iceland, but up to date information can be found on the Directorate of Health’s website.

Minister of Foreign Affairs to Seek Exception to Travel Ban

Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson will meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington DC next week, RÚV reports. Guðlaugur Þór had initially requested a phone call to discuss the terms of US President Donald Trump’s recent European travel ban but received an invitation to an in-person meeting on Thursday instead. Guðlaugur Þór will use the meeting to seek an exemption to the travel ban for Iceland.

See Also: Iceland Among Countries Facing US Travel Ban

After the ban was announced, Guðlaugur Þór attended a meeting at the US Embassy in Reykjavík and spoke with both US Ambassador Jeffrey Ross Gunter and his deputy to discuss the matter. Guðlaugur Þór’s assistant, Borgar Þór Einarsson, told reporters that it is likely that the US Secretary’s decision to invite him to a meeting stemmed from this discussion.

Borgar Þór said that the minister intends to lay out a logistical plan for how an Icelandic exemption could be managed. He also to emphasize Iceland’s “unique position” in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, namely that it is an island nation just like the UK, which has been exempted from President Trump’s travel ban.

 

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.