Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Address to the Althing

Address to the Althing
H.E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade
October 31, 1996
(Unofficial Translation)


Table of Contents

Nordic and Neighbouring Countries
European Affairs
The IGC and Future Developments of the EU
EEA Co-operation
EFTA
Political relations with the EU
Schengen
The Council of Europe
Security
The Enlargement of NATO and Relations with Russia
PfP and NACC
The Defence Co-operation with the United States
OSCE
Disarmament
Export Initiatives
International Economic and Trade Co-operation
WTO
OECD
The Law of the Sea and Natural Resources
High Seas Fishing
Fisheries negotiations
Utilisation of the Resources of the Sea
The United Nations
Development

Mr. Speaker,

Fifty years have passed since Iceland became a Member State of the United Nations. There is no doubt that the membership represented an important milestone, since it marked Iceland's departure from a policy of neutrality in international affairs and established the foundation for the decision taken shortly afterwards to join the Western defence alliance. The benefits Iceland has reaped from participation in international co-operation can never be fully appreciated.

This past half-century, tremendous progress has been seen in Iceland, Europe and indeed the entire world. Iceland, which for the first decades of this century was in reality an underdeveloped nation of small, independent farmers, has now become a modern industrialised information society with an educated workforce and thriving enterprises in the field of fisheries, agriculture, industry, software development and services. The opening of the country to the positive influences of international development and increased co-operation with other countries, especially in the past few years, has played a key role in these developments.

In this last decade of the twentieth century, traditional co-operation e.g. within the United Nations, NATO and the forum of Nordic co-operation, has gained a renewed life through revitalisation and increased scope. New international co-operation on a regional basis has also been increased. International economic and trade co-operation, not to mention the importance of export trade, has multiplied. The truth is that this ever-increasing importance of international co-operation calls for the reinforcement of the Foreign Service so that it may continue to serve our foreign interests in the best possible way.

Nordic and Neighbouring Countries

Co-operation in numerous areas with our fellow Nordic countries remains a basic element of Icelandic Foreign Policy. Foreign Affairs, including security matters, are playing an increasingly important role in Nordic co-operation while at the same time the traditional co-operation in domestic, educational, cultural and social matters continues. Iceland has played an effective role in adapting the co-operation of the Nordic countries to changed circumstances.

Nordic co-operation is a great source of strength for Iceland in the international field. It is an important element in our political and economic co-operation with other European nations and crucial in the co-operation regarding the neighbouring regions of the Nordic countries.

In the past few years, relations between the Nordic countries and their neighbouring countries have increased dramatically. Co-operation within the Council of the Baltic Sea States and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council is taking on a more fixed form, and a historic step was taken on the 19th of September this year when the Nordic countries, along with Russia, Canada and the United States, established a new forum for co-operation, the Arctic Council.

There is much at stake here and it is of great importance that the Arctic Council become a general framework for the co-operation of nations in the Arctic Region. In time, it is to be hoped that permanent headquarters will be established for the Council, and Iceland is willing to provide a base for such headquarters.

The co-operation within the Council of the Baltic Sea States provides the Western states in the Council with an opportunity to promote reforms within the newly independent nations of the region. The Western Nations have a duty to assist these nations in their efforts to establish a democratic rule of law encompassing rights for minorities, free-market principles and respect for the environment.

The Icelandic government has decided to support the establishment of the office of Ombudsman for the citizens of Estonia; Estonia and Russia are the only states in the Council which do not have such an office. The office of Ombudsman is extremely important to help ensure proper judicial proceedings for the people in these countries. Iceland has also taken a seat in the CBSS Working Group on Economic Co-operation. The Presidency of the Committee is now in the hands of the European Union.

In order to promote and facilitate the relations of the Baltic States with the Western States, the Nordic countries have all worked toward the mutual abolition of visa requirements with these countries. Iceland will participate fully in this process, and hopefully discussions with the Baltic States on the implementation of this matter will begin soon.

European Affairs

Application for membership of the European Union is not on the agenda of the present government, but the importance of maintaining good relations with the Union and its Member States is clear. Most of Iceland's important partners in security and trade are members of the Union. It is important for us to monitor carefully all developments within the EU and maintain a steady effort in promoting Iceland's position and interests.

The IGC and Future Developments of the EU

Within the European Union the debate on the future policy of the Union has undergone considerable change. Exalted panegyrics on a Europe united in a sort of superstate, a United States of Europe, are no longer the order of the day. The Legend of Europe has given way to the realities of everyday as the ideas of certain states on flexible adaptation to the unification process bear clear witness. Europe consists of a number of nation states, each of which has its own special identity. It is difficult, therefore, to see how the European Union can ever become anything but a union of nation states.

The political co-operation of the Member States of the EU has not been as effective as their co-operation in the fields of trade and economics. One purpose of the Intergovernmental Conference is to remedy this situation. Not much progress seems to have been made in many of the most delicate matters. Thus, there is a growing likelihood that no radical change will be made in the structure and activities of the Union and that many of the largest issues will be set aside.

Briefings on the Intergovernmental Conference are held regularly with the EFTA States. These meetings have been informative and at the same time they have provided an opportunity to present the views of the EFTA States. The need for continuing close consultation on future developments has been strongly emphasised. The EU has agreed to the request of the EFTA-States to be provided with all documents submitted at the Conference following discussion of their contents by the representatives of the Member States in their meetings.

There are two aspects of the Conference worth noting which could have considerable significance for Iceland. On the one hand, there is the proposal of Great Britain regarding changes in the Fisheries Policy, and on the other hand there is the further development of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Several Member States of the EU have expressed their dissatisfaction with the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy, although the British have been most vocal in campaigning for its amendment. The dissatisfaction mostly centers on the so-called "quota hopping", which, briefly speaking, has the effect that there is no guarantee that quotas issued to a given country is utilised to the benefit of that country. Britain has decided to take up this matter at the Intergovernmental Conference but it is difficult to speculate whether they will succeed at the IGC to bring about a change in the policy. It should be kept in mind that a comprehensive re-evaluation of the Fisheries Policy is imminent and the work is scheduled to end before the end of 2002.

As regards the further development of the Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy, it has become quite clear that some changes will be made, though not as radical as some states might have chosen. Probably, a consensus will be reached on appointing a special representative on CFSP and at the same time possibilities of consultation and situation analysis in the field of Foreign Policy will be increased. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the EU could take decisions on peacekeeping and humanitarian measures, but with their implementation left to the Western European Union.

The position of individual new Member States of the EU, whose contribution in this area has always been great but who are not participants in the western defence co-operation, is quite understandable. But the solution must not consist in the EU issuing instructions to the Western European Union which would then, in effect, lose its independence. Such a solution would be equally unacceptable to Iceland as the merging of the WEU into the EU.

As a matter of fact, plans for the full incorporation of the Western European Union into the EU appear to be off the table, at least for the near future. A consensus has been reached to build the European security and defence identity within NATO. At the NATO ministerial in Berlin last June, an agreement was concluded on CJTF to the effect that the Western European Union will have access to the joint command structure and other NATO facilities to deal with issues that do not require the participation of our North American allies. It is a matter of great satisfaction for Iceland that the emphasis on European defence co-operation will be within NATO.

EEA Co-operation

The Presidency of the EEA is in the hands of Iceland for the remainder of this year. Regular consultations at ministerial, official and expert level have been held with the European Union. It is important to continue to promote and develop this consultation process.

The participation of the EFTA-states in the formulation of European legislation has been in a state of constant revision since the EEA Agreement took effect. Experts from the administrative organs of the EFTA-states are now meeting with representatives of the EU and its Member States and a foundation is being laid for a uniform legislation within Europe in various areas. In the formulation of this legislation, Icelandic representatives have had the opportunity to present Iceland's special position.

EFTA

The EFTA-states have greatly increased their relations with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including the Baltic States. From within EFTA, free-trade agreements have been concluded with most of these states. Markets in these countries are growing rapidly, and Icelandic exporters are now confronted with the task of recapturing their previous market share. It is important also to nurture the political relations with these states, many of which will eventually become members of the European Union

Political relations with the EU

Political relations with the European Union are extremely important to Iceland. Last spring, a firm basis was established for these relations through the so-called "political dialogue" on the basis of the EEA-Agreement. This has made it possible for us to study much more closely the developments within the EU and to present our views on Foreign Affairs. On the basis of this co-operation, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein have taken part in the positions and declarations of the European Union on foreign affairs in the international forum.

Experience has shown us that in most issues our position in Foreign affairs is in line with that of the EU, especially now that the majority of the Nordic Countries have joined the Union. But participation in the political co-operation of the EU does not lessen the importance of our relations with the individual Member States. On the contrary, our bilateral relations with the Member States of the EU must be strengthened. It is the policy of the Icelandic government to promote and utilise the political dialogue to the fullest. This will be of great importance when it comes to enlarging and further developing the Union, especially in light of the fact that Iceland does not intend to apply for membership in the near future.

Schengen

Iceland, along with the other Nordic Countries, became an observer to the Schengen Agreement as of the first of May of this year. In many respects, this can be said to be an extension of the Nordic Passport Union. The Icelandic government has firmly emphasised the continuation of this basic co-operation.

The Nordic Member States of the Union, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, will be full members of Schengen, but full membership for Iceland and Norway is not possible. Further negotiations on the arrangement of Icelandic and Norwegian co-operation with the Schengen countries are well under way and a co-operation agreement is scheduled for signing before the end of the year subject to the approval of the Althing, to which the agreement will be submitted for deliberation. The agreement is scheduled to take effect late in 1998.

The Council of Europe

An important element of promoting security in Europe involves the guarantee of respect for human rights and the reinforcement of democracy. In these areas, the Council of Europe has an important role to play, since through membership of the Council, the Member States assume commitments in the fields of democracy and human rights. The membership of Russia this year represents a giant step in the direction of securing democracy in the largest country in Europe. The Council of Europe is important to the smaller states as a forum where they can express their views and have an impact on the course of events with regard to the future of Europe.

Security

The positive developments in security in our region of the world following the end of the Cold War has had the effect that the community of nations is no longer obsessed with the stalemate of the superpowers and imminent Armageddon. The nations of the world should now be in a better position to join forces to end regional conflicts, aid in the reconstruction of war-torn areas and eliminate distrust. Operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina over the past months have shown that this is possible.

However, no consensus has been reached on the future security arrangements in Europe. Discussions are under way in the OSCE, whose membership consists of all the states of Europe, all the successor states of the Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. The future of security in Europe is also being discussed within NATO, the Western European Union and the European Union. Iceland places the greatest emphasis on the role of NATO and within that organisation enormous progress has been made in adapting to altered conditions and in fact NATO will continue to play a key role in the security of the continent as it has in the past.

The Enlargement of NATO and Relations with Russia

All the indications are that at a NATO summit next year, some partner countries will be invited to join NATO. There is a consensus within the organisation that the enlargement must not create new dividing lines in Europe and that the security interests of all the partner countries must be taken into consideration. The enlargement, in combination with the further development of security matters in Europe, would be one aspect of the reorganisation of security on the continent as a whole.

Parallel with the enlargement, Nato's relations with Russia and the Ukraine must be greatly reinforced. Furthermore, the peace efforts of the Alliance must be strengthened in such a way as to increase relations with those partner countries that will not become members in the first instance, or do not seek membership at all. It is no secret that Russia has been especially critical of the proposed enlargement of NATO. It is important to address this criticism, e.g. through the negotiation of a special Charter between the Alliance and Russia, which would strengthen relations and ensure greater stability in the relations between these two parties. At the same time the right of all nations, including the Baltic States, to choose their own means of security must be clearly provided for.

It must be emphasised, that the enlargement does not mean that the NATO of the Cold-War extends its boundaries eastwards. The Alliance has changed radically in the past few years and the transformation is not over yet. The number of troops of the Member States have been reduced and nuclear armament has been reduced drastically. At the same time, the Alliance has demonstrated its capacity to take on new challenges as demonstrated by its successful leadership in bringing about peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the near future, the Alliance may be expected to devote itself increasingly to new projects which do not fall under its traditional defence role and with partner countries participating in such projects.

PfP and NACC

Nato's Partnership for Peace with the partner countries in the East has formed the framework for relations in the military sector, with emphasis on the co-ordination of the armed forces of the participating nations. The joint actions of NATO and its partner countries in Bosnia and Herzegovina would hardly have been possible without the experience gained from PfP. Important consultation with the Central and Eastern European states also proceeds within the North Atlantic Co-operation Council. Next December will mark five years since the establishment of the NACC and on that occasion a process of revision will take place with the purpose of strengthening the co-operation still further. In light of the prospective enlargement of the Alliance, the NACC and PfP must be strengthened in order to meet the needs of the states which will not be granted membership in the first round and the states who do not seek membership.

One of the most important aspects of the adaptation of NATO is the reorganisation of its command structure to enable it to meet the demands of the new times at the same time that its size and costs are reduced. At the same time, the command structure must be simplified so that its basic form need not be changed as new member states join the Alliance.

The Defence Co-operation with the United States

NATO has changed and will continue to change with new tasks, but the main task will remain the defence of the Member States on the basis of the co-operation of the Countries of Europe and North America in security matters. These relations have always been of key importance to Iceland and Icelandic security. We have been members of the Alliance since its establishment and the most important justification has always been securing the freedom and independence of Iceland.

It is the basic responsibility of any government to ensure the security of the nation. The Defence Treaty with the United States and Iceland's participation in the defence co-operation of the Western nations is and will always be the basis of Iceland's security policy.

The defence co-operation of the Western States is based on the principle that all the nations contribute according to their means and capability. This we have done. Apart from the important role of the Keflavik Air Base in the common defence system of NATO, we have made our contribution to the first military operation in the history of the Alliance, i.e. the implementation of the peace agreement in Bosnia, by contributing doctors and nurses. At the same time, Iceland is contributing IKR 110 million to the reconstruction of Bosnia, especially in the field of health care, in co-operation with the World Bank.

In co-operation with the Defence Force, Iceland has invited the Member States and Partner countries of NATO to participate in an extensive disaster relief exercise next summer where the effects of a powerful earthquake will be simulated. Preparations for the exercise are proceeding according to plan and reactions have been positive.

As before we must make every effort, within reasonable limits, to participate actively in the activities of the Alliance. By doing so, we make our contribution to the assurance of peace in the coming century.

OSCE

The Summit Meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation will be held next December, where, among other things, the development of a new security model for Europe will be discussed. The OSCE has grown rapidly over the past two years and now plays an important role in dealing with the various effects of the Cold War. Development of Democracy, election monitoring, human rights and the rights of minority groups are among the issues to which the OSCE has contributed substantially. The elections in Bosnia were held under the administration of the OSCE and the Organisation performed commendably under difficult circumstances. Iceland has no representative in the OSCE and therefore has difficulties monitoring, participating in or influencing the activities of the Organisation. In light of this, the Ministry is considering the possibility of reopening a permanent delegation to the OSCE in Vienna.

Disarmament

The signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is an important milestone in security matters. It is unfortunate, to be sure, that India chose not to support the Treaty as this will delay its taking effect for an undetermined time. The overwhelming support of the Member States of the United Nations and the signature of the nuclear powers, however, gives the Treaty considerable weight which cannot be ignored in future discussions on nuclear disarmament. It should be noted that Iceland will participate in the monitoring system of the Treaty.

Iceland has signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and a Bill on its ratification will be submitted to the Althing this winter. There are other important disarmament agreements in preparation and Iceland will support those efforts. It is most important to begin immediately the work of drafting an agreement banning the use, manufacture and sale of land mines. These are dreadful weapons which are harmful chiefly to innocent citizens, often long after the conflict for which they were laid is over.

Export Initiatives

International trade has been changing in the past decade. Icelandic fisheries enterprises are increasingly extending their operations to distant countries. A few years ago it was regarded as unlikely that Icelandic fish exporters would ever sell anything but Icelandic fish. Today, the reality is that the large fish exporters have seen an advantage in offering as many species as possible to their customers, regardless of origin. What matters is that the quality must fulfil Icelandic requirements.

Fisheries enterprises which have extended their operations overseas have blazed a trail for other enterprises. Icelandic companies producing software and equipment for fisheries and fish processing enterprises are more often than not leaders in their field and these exports are growing in importance each year. Demand for Icelandic technology and know-how among participants in projects in distant countries has been great and this demand has invigorated Iceland's economy. Enterprises in the supporting sectors of the fishing industry have made great progress in marketing their products and this, in turn, has served as an incentive for other enterprises to do better.

Over the past months the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has placed increasing emphasis on assisting the export sector through co-operation with the Icelandic Export Council. Trade missions have been organised to China, South Africa, Namibia, Murmansk, the Czech Republic and Pakistan. During my official visit to South-Korea last August, I was accompanied by business representatives and the organisation and preparation of the visit was in many ways different from the usual. Export companies in the fisheries industry and related sectors in the software industry were able to establish relations which have already had good results. Representatives of companies involved in imports from South-Korea and of the Association of Icelandic Importers, Exporters and Wholesale Merchants also formed part of the expedition. At the same time, Iceland was promoted as an investment opportunity.

A similar expedition is scheduled for next year, probably to South America. The idea is for the expedition to include representatives from all sectors of Icelandic industry with plans to expand into foreign markets.

The co-operation of the Foreign Ministry and the Iceland Export Council has been successful and useful. The co-operation will be increased still further and at the same time the Ministry itself will be reinforced in this area and the embassies will be strengthened with the needs of the business community in mind.

International Economic and Trade Co-operation

WTO

Participation in global trade co-operation ensures increased opportunities for Icelandic businesses in foreign markets. It leads to the standardisation of international rules and thus reduces uncertainty and misunderstanding which can cause difficulties in international trade. The World Trade Organisation is still working on the implementation of the results of the Uruguay round. The implementation of the agreements is complicated, as is the surveillance process.

It has not been possible to conclude negotiations on individual matters which were pursued following the end of the Uruguay round, such as shipping, financial services and communications. Progress in these areas has been halted not least because of the reluctance of some Member States to present acceptable offers of market access. Iceland has suggested that the market access in the Member States of the WTO should be modelled on the market access under the EEA-Agreement. This position places us in the ranks of the most liberal states in this respect.

OECD

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development provides a forum for extensive co-operation in the fields of economics, trade and fiscal matters. Various other matters are dealt with by the Organisation and Iceland has benefited, among other things, from various studies where certain aspects have been assessed and compared in an international context. One of the most important projects in process at the Organisation is the ongoing work on a simplified investment agreement to replace the various versions of bilateral agreements between states. With this investment agreement, the conditions for investment between countries will be more transparent and investments more effective. It is safe to say that this work will be of considerable benefit for Iceland at a time when foreign investments in Iceland and Icelandic investments abroad are growing.

The Law of the Sea and Natural Resources

High Seas Fishing

Over the last few years, fishing by Icelandic vessels outside the economic jurisdiction has brought in considerable revenues. Hopefully this will continue, but there are clouds on the horizon. The exploitation of the fishing grounds has greatly increased and the Northeast Atlantic is no exception.

The UN Agreement on High Seas Fisheries** Agreement on the implementation of the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982, concerning the conservation and management of straddling fishstocks and highly migratory fishstocks. is intended to address this development. The purpose of the Agreement is to ensure the conservation and sustainable utilisation of straddling fish-stocks and highly migratory species. It is in the long-term interest of all fisheries nations that this purpose is achieved and that the uncontrolled fisheries in the high seas are stopped. No nations, however, stand to benefit more than the nations which are dependent upon fisheries for their survival.

The essence of the High Seas Fisheries Agreement is the principle that coastal states and states involved in high seas fisheries should co-operate within regional fisheries organisations on the protection and control of fisheries from stocks which migrate in and out of jurisdictions.

It must be ensured that the co-operation within the regional fisheries organisations is not just for show but contributes to the adherence of states to their commitments regarding the protection and sensible utilisation of marine resources. In order for this to happen, these organisations must adapt to changed circumstances. The Icelandic government will promote the necessary reorganisation within the organisations to which Iceland is party. Obviously, various provisions of the UN Agreement on High Seas Fisheries will form the basis for this reorganisation.

Fisheries negotiations

Over the past months and years, the Icelandic government has been involved in discussions with neighbouring countries regarding the control of fisheries from individual fish stocks. An important development was that an agreement was reached at a meeting of the Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Committee, NEAFC, last spring on the division of fishing quotas from the oceanic redfish stock on the Reykjanes Ridge. It is unfortunate, of course, that Russia has protested the decision and that they are therefore not bound by the agreement, but hopefully an agreement will be reached on their share at the annual meeting of the NEAFC in November.
It is no less important that an agreement was reached last May between the four coastal states, Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, Norway and Russia, on the control of fisheries from the Norwegian-Icelandic herring stock this year. This agreement was discussed in detail in the Althing when it was concluded. It is clear that not everyone was satisfied with the outcome, but it is worth remembering that the agreement was heavily criticised by Norwegian interest groups as well. But although this agreement is an important step, the unrestricted fisheries of the European Union are a cause for real concern. It is now known that fishing vessels from the EU caught 200,000 tons of herring this year, which is far beyond their fair share. It is clear that full control of fisheries from the Norwegian-Icelandic herring stock will not be attained until the EU also falls under this control.

It is unfortunate that no agreement has yet been reached on our cod fisheries in the Barents sea. Constant work is in progress on finding an acceptable solution and hopefully this dispute can be settled soon. It is the duty of governments of these two brother nations to bring this matter to a conclusion.

At a meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation, NAFO, this autumn, it was decided to continue to employ pursuit control in the shrimp fisheries on the Flemish Cap next year. Iceland has not been able to accept this form of control and will protest the decision as was the case last year. It is quite clear, however, that we will have to reduce our fisheries in the area considerably next year. Our fishing this year has increased dramatically from last year and this has been harshly criticised, e.g. by the Canadians. We cannot behave as if the fishing grounds in this area are an unlimited resource capable of withstanding endlessly increasing exploitation. This is nonsense, and we should know that better than any other nation. Our reputation as a responsible fishing nation is at stake.

Following the fisheries of Danish vessels this summer within the Icelandic Jurisdiction north of Kolbeinsey, the dispute between Denmark and Iceland on the delimitation of our waters and the area between Iceland and the Faeroes surfaced again. The governments of both countries have concentrated on taking a moderate stand and trying to find a permanent solution. For this purpose, discussions have been held between the officials from both countries. They have been amicable and useful and they will be continued later this year.

Utilisation of the Resources of the Sea

It is the resolute policy of Iceland that the living resources of the sea should be utilised in a sustainable manner. The whales are no exception. The attitude toward the preservation and utilisation of whales must be governed by the same set of principles as those applicable to other living resources in Icelandic waters. A special working party is now working on the preparation of a proposed resolution to be submitted to the Althing on Icelandic whaling.

In the past few years, international environmental protection organisations and agencies have concerned themselves with the utilisation of natural resources. Opposition to such utilisation has been quite vocal and this represents some danger. Icelanders, who are so dependent upon the utilisation of the resources of the sea, must monitor the work of these organisations and agencies closely, argue coherently for sensible utilisation and ensure that fanatical protectionist viewpoints do not get the upper hand. It is clear that this work must be emphasised and we must be prepared to bear the cost. Our vital interests leave us no choice in the matter.

The United Nations

Although the future is bright in many respects when we look to the coming century, it is foreseeable that there is much room for improvement. The countries of the world must to a greater extent join forces in solving numerous complex problems afflicting large segments of Mankind which did not receive the attention they deserved in the time of the Cold War and the stalemate of the superpowers. These problems, many of which are the result of economic and social inequality, population growth, pollution of the environment, conflict, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, do not respect any borders and it is not always within the ability of individual countries or groups of countries to solve them.

The United Nations have a important role to play and they have the resources and the international prestige required to confront these large problems. At this time, a great process of reformation is in progress within the organisation and the Icelandic government is willing to participate in the adaptation of the United Nations to new circumstances and render every possible assistance.

There is no doubt that the membership of Iceland in the United Nations in 1946 was an important milestone. The independence and sovereignty of Iceland was confirmed and participation in this largest organisation in the world has ever since been symbolic of Iceland's position in the community of nations. Our advantages from participation in the diverse activities of the United Nations defy calculation. In many ways, membership of the United nations has served our national interests and even had effects on our basic survival, as exemplified by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. On the basis of this Convention the International Court of the Law of the Sea was recently established in Hamburg, which is a significant event.

It is worth bearing in mind, however, that the chief purpose of our participation in the work of the United Nations is to exert a beneficial influence and to make our contribution to a more peaceful and humane environment in the world. In a recent report issued by the United Nations on standards of living in the world, Iceland is ranked in eighth place with regard to standard of living. This reflects a reality with which Icelanders are familiar, but at the same time it places certain moral obligations on our shoulders regarding the more deprived people of the world.

Over the past months and years the United Nations have held large conferences on the most important issues of Mankind. The latest of these were the HABITAT II Conference in Istanbul and the Women's Conference in Beijing. It is important for the programmes agreed at these conferences be implemented. In this context it should be mentioned that a consultation group on the implementation of the Beijing programme on equal rights has been established.

There is every indication that Iceland will take a seat on the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC) for the next three years. The seat on the Council should serve as an incentive for us to attend to the important matters falling under its terms of reference.

It is important to continue the work which began with Iceland's participation in the Environment Committee. The question should also be addressed whether Iceland should seek a seat on the Committee on renewable energy resources. We should also increase our participation in the area of humanitarianism and social affairs where we have the capacity to make a contribution and approach matters on an objective and material basis. The possibility is being explored for Icelandic participation in a United Nations Committee on children's rights. Participation in that committee might give us a good opportunity to contribute to the improvement, in part at least, of the position of millions of children across the world who have been forced to endure slavery, sweatshop conditions and sexual abuse.

The struggle of the United Nations against crime is gaining in importance. Organised international crime is spreading to many of our neighbouring countries. It is imperative to participate in the effort to stem the spread of criminal activities such as drug trafficking. The Icelandic government supports the plan of the United Nations to hold a Conference in 1998 devoted to the fight against drugs.

Within the forum of the United Nations, Iceland has worked consistently on issues concerning the sea and its biosphere. The nations of the world are becoming more aware now of the importance of the living resources of the sea for nutrition. At the summit meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome next month, the Icelandic government will deliver a reminder of the importance of the sea as a source of food, not least for the population of the developing countries, and of the necessity of sustainable utilisation of the resources of the sea. Good results have been achieved in Iceland's struggle to obtain international recognition of the necessity of combating the spread of persistent pollutants in the oceans.

Development

In Icelandic aid to the developing countries, our know-how in the fisheries industries has been most useful. Parallel with the work of the Icelandic Development Agency in several African countries, the Icelandic government has contributed to multinational development activities and relief aid. A great step forward was taken this summer when the government agreed to begin the operation of the United Nations Fisheries Programme in 1998, which will work in close co-operation with the main fisheries organisations in the country, including rural fisheries enterprises and the University in Akureyri.

The bilateral development work of Iceland is mostly in the hands of the Icelandic Development Agency. The work of this Agency has in the past years enjoyed considerable success and increased allocations have made it possible for the Agency to increase the number of co-operating countries and expand its activities. Icelandic development aid and development co-operation has for many years been concentrated largely on southern Africa.

This autumn, responsibility for relations with the World Bank was transferred from the Ministry of Commerce to the Foreign Ministry. The activities of the bank are concerned mostly with developmental matters. This transfer of responsibility is an attempt to make the Icelandic contribution to development more effective. It is natural that the contribution to development activities should be increased as soon as economic circumstances will allow. It should be remembered that participation in development projects creates trade relations with countries which have no prior trade relations with Iceland and this can open opportunities for further trade.

Mr. Speaker,

The basic goal of Icelandic Foreign Policy is to preserve Icelandic interests abroad. In political, economic, cultural and security matters Iceland is part of various ever-growing multinational entities as can readily be seen from the increased participation in the work of international organisations and other international co-operative efforts.

This is most evident, however, with reference to the direct economic survival of the Icelandic nation which is based first and foremost on the unrestricted access of Icelandic enterprises to foreign markets. The role of the Foreign Service must therefore be to strengthen and support the promotion of exports, increase opportunities and assist in the opening of new markets.

This means that the dividing line between traditional foreign and domestic affairs has for the most part vanished. Participation in international co-operation now increasingly serves the interests of the nation as a whole.

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