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Prime Minister's Office

Reception in Ottawa

Reception hosted by the Prime Minister of Iceland,
Mr. Davíð Oddsson
April 2000 - Ottawa, Canada

It is a great pleasure for me and the Icelandic delegation to see how many people have been able to attend this gathering. The year 2000 somehow stirs the emotions of most nations and the Icelanders are no exception. But as a nation we also have two major causes for celebration. This year marks the millennium of the adoption of Christianity in Iceland, when the entire nation peacefully accepted the new faith with a decision reached by our ancient parliament. And secondly, we are celebrating in particular the millennium of the first Icelandic explorers to set foot in America, at the place where Canada would establish itself many centuries later. As was customary in Iceland then and ever since, detailed accounts were written of those voyages. This morning we commemorated one episode in this great sequence of events with the unveiling of a statute of Gudríður Þorbjarnardóttir, a great woman and the heroine of a great saga.
But our purpose in coming here now is not only to look back in pride, but equally to look forward towards the future. The main reason that the Icelanders became the first Europeans to travel here to North America was of course that we were and are your closest neighbours, and certainly that fact has not changed over the past thousand years. For this reason we give major priority to consolidating and strengthening our links with Canada. We have decided to open an embassy here in March next year, a major decision for a country the size of Iceland which has only 17 embassies and permanent delegations to international agencies at present. We have a Consul General in Winnipeg, headed by Ambassador Gestsson who is also Iceland's special envoy of Millennium Affairs. We hope that our decision will be reciprocated by the Canadian Government and our meetings with Prime Minister Chrétien and Foreign Minister Axworthy this morning have served to strengthen our faith that this will be done.

We regard this decision as a purposeful step towards strengthening relations in all fields of business and culture, where we consider that many opportunities are already open and many more remain to be explored. The bold Vikings who came here explored the territory, but did not settle. Canadians should feel welcome to reciprocate that Icelandic initiative now, a thousand years later, and explore carefully the advantages and possibilities for closer cooperation with Iceland.
No matter what international surveys or comparisons are made, Canada is almost without exception among the world leaders, and is almost always the number one choice of country where people would prefer to live after their home country. We too share this high opinion of Canada. We would gladly encourage everyone here, Icelanders and Canadians alike – some of you are indeed both – to play your part in strengthening, consolidating and enhancing even further the close friendship between us.
I would like to thank Prime Minister Chrétien and the Government of Canada for the hospitality they have shown to my wife and myself during this visit.

I would also like to thank Prime Minister Chrétien in particular for his personal interest in strengthening Icelandic-Canadian relations still further. He showed his support in concrete terms today with his attendance at the unveiling of the statue of Gudríður Þorbjarnardóttir at the Museum of Civilisation this morning, and with the speech he made on that occasion.

I am convinced that Iceland and Canada have many opportunities to consolidate the cooperation between their countries even further during the years to come in the international arena, in environmental issues and fishing, where both our countries are deeply involved and have major interests to safeguard.

It is also a special pleasure to visit a NATO ally and have the chance to discuss the issues of the Alliance. Participation in NATO is one of the cornerstones of Icelandic foreign policy. We are proud of having played a part for more than fifty years, together with Canada and the other members of the Alliance, in defending the cause of democracy and the fundamental values and vision that the NATO member nations share.

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