Minister for Foreign Affairs, Össur Skarphéðinsson, and Carl Bildt, Sweden's Foreign Minister met in Iceland on Monday. The ministers discussed future developments in the Arctic and the necessity for the Arctic nations to prepare for increased activities and rising worldwide interest in the region.
Both ministers agreed that the strength of the Arctic Council is reflected in the ever increasing number of applications for observer status at the Council from states, organizations and NGO's alike. This emphasized the importance of the Arctic Council engaging the observer issue in a positive and constructive way at the upcoming Council's ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, in May.
The Foreign Minister expressed his appreciation of Sweden's able and eventful chairmanship of the Council, i.e. the establishment of the Council's Permanent Secretariat in Tromsö, with Icelander Magnús Jóhannesson, serving as its first director. The Minister said it was important that Iceland strengthens its infrastructure to prepare for increased shipping over the Arctic Ocean.
At the meeting Foreign Minister Bildt reiterated his strong support for Iceland's application for membership of the EU. The ministers also discussed the EU and US free trade negotiations and Foreign Minister Skarphéðinsson stressed its significance for Iceland and possible involvement of EU candidate countries in the talks.
Monday evening the two ministers made key note speeches at the opening of a conference on Challenges of Development, Security and Cooperation in the Arctic. In his address Foreign Minister Skarphéðinsson talked about his vision for the future role of the Arctic Council and its part in stimulating global approach to the most urgent problems in the region and to build bridges of cooperation to outside stakeholders.