12 August 2001
Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson,
to Members of the US House Committee on Natural Resources
Ladies and gentlemen,
I and my wife Sigurjóna are delighted to have with us and welcome here today members of the House Committee on Natural Resources, your spouses and staff members on your three-day visit to Iceland at the invitation of Mr. Mathiesen, Minister of Fisheries.
As will become evident during your stay here, there are strong ties in many areas between Iceland and the United States. These ties extend to defense and security, trade and economic issues, tourism and close cooperation in international organizations. I hope you will come to realize that our two countries have in place a special relationship of trust and mutual appreciation.
We are very pleased that the purpose of the Committee's visit is to gain an insight into the sustainable utilization of Iceland's main natural resources - our fisheries and renewable energy.
Last Wednesday I met in Washington with Secretary of State Powell to reaffirm with the new U.S. Administration our very close ties.
Our two countries have a unique defense relationship dating back to 1941 during World War II when the United States undertook to defend Iceland. This, ladies and gentlemen, was six months before Pearl Harbor and reflected the American realization that, despite not having entered the war, there was an urgent need to support the British war effort, and at the same time safeguarding Iceland's strategic location in the North Atlantic against Nazi occupation. This is a strategic geographical location, I might add, which has not changed in importance during the past sixty years.
From this period the close relationship between our two countries has evolved - the United States being the first country to recognize Iceland's independence in 1944, and then in 1951, due to the cold war threats, the two countries concluded a defense agreement with the stationing of U.S. military forces in Iceland. This agreement has been a cornerstone of our bilateral relationship and will continue to be so in the future.
Secretary Powell and I spoke also in Washington about many of the challenges facing our countries presently and in the future, an important one being the sustainability of natural resources. The Icelandic economy is a resource-based economy. If the resources are not sustainably managed, economic viability of our society will be harmed.
Your visit here to Iceland as parliamentary experts in this field is therefore most timely since Icelanders have never before as now discussed the possible options in attaining a higher level of sustainability in renewable resources to be found in and around Iceland - namely fisheries and clean energy, therefore benefitting both ourselves and the world around us.
Fisheries, the mainstay of our economy, has given us one of the highest standards of living in the world. We in Iceland operate fisheries on a profit basis unlike the situation in many other countries. In order to do so we must have a sustainable renewal of these resources to continue to profit from our fish exports to countries such as the United States. During your stay in Iceland you will, I hope, gain a better understanding of why the management of living marine resources is fundamental to the prosperity of Iceland.
In the field of renewable energy closer practical contacts are now being established between our two countries. Iceland has an abundance of hydroelectric and geothermal energy. You will be informed during your visit about various possibilities where Icelandic energy could be of benefit to U.S. interests, governmental entities or private companies. An example of the possibilities is the use of Icelandic energy for computer server farms. Studies are also underway on the production of hydrogen as an alternative fuel. Icelandic expertise and know-how in these fields is internationally recognized.
Iceland, given its size, has to be very focused in its participation in international cooperation as to how its knowledge and expertise are used. I would therefore like to mention two pending international projects where Iceland will have a leading role and which touch upon the issues your committee deals with.
The first one is that next year Iceland will assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which is composed of the five Nordic countries, Canada, Russia and the United States. This organization of eight countries covers various projects dealing with monitoring and assessment of the Arctic environment, including the promotion of sustainable economic activities in the Arctic region. Carefully crafted cooperation in the Arctic Council can bring solutions to pressing issues faced by the peoples of the region.
The other project is a Conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem which is being hosted by Iceland and jointly organized with F.A.O. and Norway in the beginning of next October.
The Conference is held to meet the growing interest in including ecosystem considerations in fisheries management based on the best scientific knowledge available. The Conference is to identify future challenges and strategies in this regard. It is the intention of the sponsors that the results of the Conference be submitted to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg next year.
Before concluding my remarks I wish to state how much the Icelandic Government appreciates the visit of your congressional delegation. A visit by members of Congress to Iceland is rare indeed, and I would therefore ask you to convey the message to your colleagues in Washington that they are most welcome in Iceland.
I hope your stay in Iceland will be fruitful and enjoyable and that you will when you leave have an appreciation of Iceland's contribution to the management of sustainable resources.
12 August 2001