Össur Skarphéðinsson Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, yesterday presented an annual report on foreign affairs to the Icelandic Parliament.
In his introductory speech the minister stressed the importance of Arctic issues with regards to Icelandic interests and informed Parliament of the main conclusions of the Artic Council Ministerial meeting held in Nuuk last week. During the meeting the Arctic Council Ministers signed a legally binding agreement on cooperation in Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic, which Minister Skarphéðinsson said could form a basis for setting up a rescue centre in Iceland. The minister also discussed the cooperation between Greenland, Fareoe Islands and Iceland on energy issues. The minister stated that significant opportunies lie in laying a marine cable from Greenland, Iceland and the Fareoe Islands to the continent.
The Foreign Minister explained the status of Iceland‘s application to the European Union and reiterated the importance of Icelanders taking the final decision on membership in a referendum once an agreement is in place. Each step towards a closer cooperation with Europe had improved the living standards of Icelanders, the minister said. and that investments in new EU member states had doubled following accession, something that would serve Iceland well in the fight against unemployment. Minister Skarphéðinsson said it was the best estimate of specialists that Iceland would be able to adopt the euro within three years of accession. He also pointed out that small states saw EU membership as strenghtening their sovereignity and security.
The Foreign Minister addressed Libya in his speech and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 for the protection of ordinary Libyans. He stressed his belief that NATO's taking over air operations against Libya had diminshed the fighting. It was however clear that resolution 1973 did not authorise the assassination of individuals, but Iceland fully supported a resolution in the UN Human rights Council calling for an investigation of Col. Gaddafi‘s actions by the International Criminal Court.
Minister Skarphéðinsson concluded his speech by mentioning the Palestinian issue. He reiteratied his support of the right of the Palestinians to live peacefully in their own country, free from occupation. Earlier in his speech the minister thanked the Parliament and ordinary Icelanders for staying alert with regards to human rights. He took as an example the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was senteced to death by stoning. Minister Skarphéðinsson informed Parliament that he had offered her an asylum in Iceland, during discussions with Iranian authorities last autumn.
The annual report on foreign affairs discusses i.a.:
- Iceland‘s application for EU membership has progressed well and it is expected that by the end of June the first 4–5 negotiation chapters will be opened, i.e. the chapters on public procurement, competition policy, information society and media, science and research and education and culture. All these chapters fall under the EEA-agreement. The report explains where preparations for all 33 negotiation chapters stand and lists the next steps.
- A broad political agreement on Iceland‘s Arctic policy has been reached with a new parlimentary resolution passed unanimously by Parliament. Climate and global changes entail both possibilities, e.g. due to increased traffic along northern shipping routes, but also dangers, which Iceland needs to prepare for.
- Consular affairs have processed over 1.000 cases in the last 12 months. This includes assistance to individuals and their families who find themselves in unexpected and difficult circumstances when abroad.
- A parliamentary resolution for establishing a national security policy has been put forward. It builds on Iceland being a non-military nation, a changed security environment and Iceland‘s security needs. The report also explains where Iceland‘s security and defence issues are positioned within the Icelandic government following recent changes as well as the importance of the Nordic cooperation declaration for security and defence, which was agreed by the five Nordic foreign ministers in Helsinki last April.
- Iceland has developed and nurtured its ties with nations in the Northern hemisphere, in Europe, United States and Canada but also with states further afield, such as China, Russia, Japan and India. Bilateral relations and business, with Iceland providing its knowledge and experience in the use of renewable energy resources, have been high on the agenda.
- Iceland participates actively in the fight against poverty and hunger, despite economic difficulties which have led to provisional reductions in the budget for development aid. The main focus of Iceland‘s contribution is on expertise in renewable energy resources, renewable fisheries, soil reclaimation and gender equality. A new parliamentary resolution for international development aid 2011–2014, proposes that Iceland‘s aid budget will gradually increase in the next decade and reach UN‘s millenium goal of 0,7% of gross national income in 2021.