Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Davið Oddsson, on foreign affairs to the Althing

Mr. Speaker

In recent years, Iceland?s participation in international consultation and co-operation has been strengthened. This is partly a result of international trends, but there are other reasons as well. The long-standing period of economic growth has led to greater demands on the Icelandic government as a result of the cross-border expansion of Icelandic enterprises and the fact that there is now greater scope for the protection of Iceland?s essential interests. Icelanders are increasingly in a better position to contribute to the preservation of peace in the world and the promotion of sustainable development in some of the poorest countries in the world. We do not intend to stop here, as the government, for political and moral reasons, aims to make Iceland?s voice even better heard in foreign affairs.

It is the prime duty of the government of a sovereign state to ensure the security and defence of country and nation. This will be Iceland?s position in the prospective negotiations with the United States on the defence relationship. These negotiations will take place in the context of the Global Defense Posture Review being conducted by the US Department of Defense concerning the overseas deployment of US forces. The Icelandic government has not expressed any objection to the normal adaptation of the Iceland Defence Force to changed circumstances, which, since the end of the Cold War, has involved a substantial reduction of materiel and forces. However, it has been strongly emphasised on the part of Iceland that the country needs defence preparedness, like all our Allied and neighbouring states. At the same time it is clear that there has been substantial growth in civil aviation traffic through Keflavik Airport, with the result that the government is willing to negotiate with the United States on increasing Icelandic participation in paying the cost of its operation. This is one of the subjects which I intend to take up with Mr. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, in Washington next November 16. The purpose of this meeting, which is held in continuation of my meeting with the President of the United States last July, is to bring the negotiations into a fixed channel and bring an end to the uncertainty regarding the future of the Iceland Defence Force.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is built upon the pillars of common basic values and political solidarity of the Allies, as well as their military capabilities and defence commitments. The success in adapting the Alliance to the changed circumstances following the Cold War reflects its lasting relevance in the eyes of the member states. In line with new points of focus, there are also new expectations that all members states should shoulder their share of the burden to the best of their ability. Iceland will not shirk its responsibilities in this respect.
T
he co-operation between the states of Europe and North America within NATO is historically unique and its success is evident. There is no other realistic option for the security of the member states. In light of this fact, it is a matter of some concern that so many European politicians and media have been feeding anti-American sentiment. There is a world of difference between healthy criticism and crass prejudice.
For a number of years, the Icelandic government has been following the development of a Common European Foreign, Security and Defence Policy. Most of the member states of the European Union emphasise the point that the security roles of the EU and NATO are different and the importance of avoiding overlap in the work of the two organisations. Iceland has strongly supported this view and warned against any debilitation of the Alliance. The fact is that neither the European Union nor the United Nations can replace NATO.


Mr. Speaker


In the course of debate on the Foreign Minister?s report to the Althing on last 6 April, Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson rightly spoke out on international terrorism and pointed out that the struggle against terror was a matter of basic values. There is no justification for terrorist acts, and there must be no giving in to terrorist demands. At the same time, it must be ensured in the struggle against terrorism that human rights are respected and that full regard is given to international commitments.

It is the nature of terrorism that it will not relent until the terrorists have achieved their objectives or been defeated. In fact, murder and destruction often seem to be their sole objectives. The very real possibility that terrorists should gain possession of weapons of mass destruction is also a matter of great concern.

The Icelandic government has committed itself in word and deed to supporting international efforts to contain and uproot terrorist forces. At the same time, the necessary measures have been taken in this country to strengthen security, but in addition to this the co-operation of Icelandic law enforcement authorities with foreign states and organisations needs to be reinforced. This applies also to the exchange of information on organised crime, money laundering and trafficking in human beings, which terrorist forces sometimes use to finance terrorist acts.

It is now over one and a half years since the liberation of Iraq from the yoke of Saddam Hussein and his butchers and the removal of the threat posed by the Iraqi government. In this short time substantial progress has been made in the reconstruction work in spite of the determined efforts of violent forces to promote insecurity and dissolution. The interim government of Iraq has assumed power and held consultations with the various political movements in the country, and general elections are now scheduled for next January. This has been effected on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1546, which, among other things, entrusts the Iraqi interim government with the decision of how long the support of multilateral forces will be needed in the country.

As before, the Icelandic government remains convinced that the invasion of Iraq was justified; indeed, its purpose was to enforce resolutions of the UN Security Council which the Iraqi government had chosen to ignore. This could no longer be tolerated. In addition, there was widespread suspicion of the Iraqi government as regards the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. The record of the Iraqi government inside and outside Iraq was such that it could not be trusted, and therefore it posed a threat to neighbouring countries and to the peace and security of the world.

No-one can reasonably contend that the Iraqi nation is not better off now than under Saddam Hussein, and surely there can be no doubt about the importance of success in bringing about democracy and stability in Iraq. The other option is for instability and dissolution to gain the upper hand with disastrous consequences for the Iraqi nation, the Middle East and the struggle against terrorist forces.

The conflict in Iraq does not really centre on the presence of foreign forces in the country, but on the establishment of a democratic order in the country. Those who are shedding the blood of Iraqi people and murdering hostages know that what happens in Iraq can have an impact on the entire Middle East. They do not want a democratic order there or anywhere else. Gloating detractors across the world have focused their attention on the difficulties which are indeed being encountered in Iraq, and they appear to regard the disputes during the course of the events leading up to the war as more important than the freedom of the Iraqi people and their hopes for the future. All those who are sincerely concerned with the interests of the Iraqi people should concentrate their efforts on supporting the interim government of Iraq, which is striving to bring about security, democracy and the reconstruction of the country.

Icelanders have contributed to the humanitarian and reconstruction work in Iraq. As is well known, experts of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit played a much appreciated role in destroying land mines and other explosive ordnance in southern Iraq last winter. It is currently under study how Iceland could play a role in the training of Iraqi security forces under the auspices of NATO in Iraq.

The recent presidential elections in Afghanistan represented a milestone in the attempt to secure democracy in that country. In spite of the calamities of recent years and an extremely limited democratic tradition, the Afghani people flocked to the polls and the Taliban threat of attacks proved empty. The position of President Karzai has strengthened greatly and experience has been gained which will prove useful in the preparations for parliamentary elections. It is important that the community of nations should provide Afghanistan with all the political, economic and military support it needs.

The NATO peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan are working under a UN mandate based on a resolution of the Security Council. As is well known, the members of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit have been responsible for the administration of the International Airport in Kabul since the beginning of last June. From the start, it was clear that this would be the most extensive and risky peacekeeping mission ever undertaken by Iceland. The project has been successful, and the members of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit deserve praise for their excellent work in difficult circumstances. When the administration of the airport is taken over by another NATO member state next year, it is a possibility that Iceland will contribute personnel for other peacekeeping work in Afghanistan.

Regional conflicts and tension determine to some extent the deployment of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit, whose members are now working in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. It is a matter of great satisfaction how well and expediently we have managed to create an efficient Crisis Response Unit, which voluntarily contributes to the security and welfare of other nations in the face of difficult circumstances and dangers.

Unfortunately, there has been no reduction in the conflicts and tension in the Middle East. This morning the death of President Yasser Arafat was announced. I would like to express my condolences to the Palestinian people and government on the death of President Arafat. It is to be hoped that his successors work for peace by bringing about the necessary reforms at home and by initiating a determined campaign against the forces of terrorism. Mr. Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel, has taken the initiative in the eviction of Israeli settlers from the Gaza strip in the face of harsh political opposition. This could prove the first step towards negotiations concerning the withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Mr. Sharon?s initiative is in contrast with the attitude and actions of Palestinian leaders, who have neither taken action against terrorist organisations nor eradicated the long-standing corruption within the Palestinian National Authority. It is now clear that the Palestinian insurrection, which began four years ago, has caused enormous damage to their interests. It is important for weapons to be laid down, for democratic elections to be held soon and for negotiations to be resumed once more. A decade ago, Iceland contributed funds for the reconstruction of the Palestinian autonomous areas, and there is willingness on our part, if peace can be achieved, to join forces with other states in providing economic support to the Palestinians.

There are other difficult problems in this region of the world. It is a fact, for instance, that the government of Iran has misled the International Atomic Energy Agency as regards the purpose and implementation of its nuclear programme. The disingenuousness of the Iranian government in this respect will be discussed in the Executive Council later this month, at which time it will no doubt be determined whether the matter needs to be referred to the UN Security Council. It is needless to point out the effect on the region, and in fact the entire world, if Iran begins to manufacture nuclear weapons. Another serious risk in this regard is North Korea, which for years has given rise to reasonable suspicion that the country is working on the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

In recent years, we have witnessed a man-made disaster in progress in the Sudan, where there is every indication that the Sudan government has been egging on gangs of criminals against the inhabitants of the Darfur region and has succeeded, by means of murder and mayhem, in displacing millions of people. This raises serious questions as to why the community of nations has not reacted more decisively to the massive ethnic cleansing in progress and alleged genocide. The questions that arise reflect, unavoidably, on the credibility of the United Nations.

Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, appointed a High-Level Panel of sixteen eminent persons in November 2003 to address the position and procedures of the United Nations in a changed security environment. It is understood that the Panel will deliver its report to the Secretary General in early December of this year and that the deliberations of the member states on the matter will follow next year. Part of this report will probably involve proposals concerning the reform of the institutional framework of the United Nations, including changes in the composition of the Security Council. The Icelandic government has, for a number of years, called for reforms within the Organisation and expressed its particular support for this initiative of the Secretary General. In this context, Iceland has supported an increase in the number of permanent seats and elected seats in the Security Council, and we believe that Brazil, India, Japan and Germany, as well as one African state, should have permanent seats. Work on Iceland?s candidacy continues. In the near future, I intend to consult with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Althingi concerning further preparations for the candidacy.

In recent years, the Icelandic government has sought to follow and participate in discussions of international human rights affairs. Respect for human rights is a prerequisite for permanent peace, and human rights are one of the aspects of our foreign policy that needs to be given increased attention in the coming years. In the current General Assembly of the United Nations, Iceland has expressed its concerns over human rights violations in various countries. It is worth noting that in a recent vote on the US trade embargo on Cuba, Iceland gave an explanation of its vote and criticised the government of Cuba for its human rights violations.

We often hear warning voices telling us that it is not the business of the Western countries to export democracy ? as some people call it ? or to force it upon other people. Of course, there must be discretion, but the issue is quite simple. Human rights are universal. Experience has shown that democracy is the prerequisite of peace and welfare, and no one should shy away from expressing that opinion to those who need to hear it. That is neither arrogance nor short-sightedness. On the contrary. Across the world, including the Middle East, there is a growing movement of people who want reform and democracy in the Western model. Democratic states should unreservedly encourage criticism and discourse on democracy and human rights wherever necessary.


Mr. Speaker


Development co-operation has in recent years become an increasingly important aspect of Icelandic foreign policy, which is evident from the fact that a significant proportion of the total allocations to foreign affairs can be traced to development co-operation. Icelandic ODA have increased almost fourfold in the last decade, and the government has set itself the objective of increasing these contributions by stages to 0.35% of GDP by 2009. In line with this decision, the Foreign Ministry and the Icelandic Development Agency are working on a strategy for the next four years concerning the means by which the increased contributions can most efficiently be used for the benefit of needy countries.

Iceland has for a long time benefited from varied co-operation in Northern Europe. This is most evident in the co-operation of the Nordic States in various fields. It is a sign of the strength of Nordic co-operation that it continues to flourish in spite of the profound changes in Europe, and it can even be argued that its importance has increased. The reason is that the Nordic countries have different links to organisations and institutions in Europe, but they still need to protect their common interests. Thus, their consultation and solidarity has achieved a new purpose.

At the end of this month, Iceland?s presidency in the Arctic Council will come to a close. During the presidency, efforts have been made to devote equal attention to social and economic factors in the activities of the Council as to the environmental dimension. In this way, the Icelandic government has sought to bring the work of the Arctic Council to bear on sustainable development in a wider context. Iceland has acquitted itself satisfactorily during its presidency. In just a few days, for example, an extensive report is scheduled to be submitted on human development in the Arctic Region, which has been prepared on the initiative of the Icelandic Government; this report will place the work of the Council relating to living conditions in the area on a firmer foundation. Another example of concrete results from the work of the Council is a report on the impact of climatic change on the Arctic Region.


Mr. Speaker


The Agreement on the European Economic Area entered into force ten years ago. It is indicative of the widespread consensus that has emerged regarding the Agreement during this time that at the last session of Parliament a legislative bill introduced by the Foreign Minister concerning ratification of the enlargement of the EEA Agreement was approved unanimously here in the Althing. The enlargement of the European Economic Area through the accession of countries in Central and Eastern Europe represented a significant milestone in the history of the Agreement. The favourable result achieved in the enlargement of the EEA is an indication that the EEA Agreement enjoys widespread political support within the European Union.

The European Union has already concluded membership talks with Bulgaria and intends to complete negotiations on the entry of Rumania before the end of the year. It is therefore reasonable to assume that agreements on the membership of these states in the European Union will be signed next year. Subsequently, there will be no obstacles to beginning negotiations concerning their membership of the European Economic Area.

Last month, the leaders of the European Union signed its new Constitution. This will be followed by a ratification process in the member states, many of which have plans to subject the Constitution to a referendum. The Icelandic government will continue to monitor events in the European Union closely. This is, among other things, a task entrusted to European Affairs Committee which is currently working under the leadership of the Minister for Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs with representatives of all the parliamentary parties. The Committee is intended to identify the principal issues and facts concerning the position of Iceland vis-à-vis the European Union and thereby promote discussions of European Affairs based on correct assumptions.

It is nothing new that Iceland always fares best when its people have the option of engaging in free and unrestricted trade with other nations. For this reason, the Icelandic Government has emphasised strengthening our trade relations with other countries. Iceland?s membership of EFTA has been invaluable in this respect. There are now thirteen free trade agreements in effect which the EFTA states have concluded with other countries. In order to secure the competitive position of enterprises within their borders, the EFTA states have been careful to remain in step with the European Union as regards free-trade negotiations. Sometimes, EFTA has also been one step ahead of the EU. Thus, trade negotiations with South Korea are scheduled for next January, and there are hopes that negotiations can begin with Thailand as early as next year. Meetings have also been scheduled with the US Government for the purpose of discussing trade relations between the EFTA States and the US. There is also interest in strengthening still further our relations with Japan and Russia.

Iceland attaches great importance to the work currently in progress within the World Trade Organisation. At the present time, discussions are in progress within the Organisation concerning the increased liberalisation of global trade. The coming months will be decisive for the results of the discussions, which focus particularly on the trade interests of the developing countries. There are hopes that an agreement will be ready in principle before the end of next year. While reaping the benefits of tariff reductions and removals and the dismantling of various other barriers to trade, Iceland will have to undertake obligations which will have an impact on this country, particularly as regards agriculture.

The Faeroe Islands and Greenland are our nearest neighbours. It is important to strengthen still further our ties of friendship and to create a strong network of relations and co-operation with these countries. A free trade agreement concluded by the Government with the Faeroe Islands represents one aspect of the effort to strengthen West-Nordic co-operation and at the same time it ensures that individuals and enterprises will enjoy the same rights in both countries. Efforts will be made towards ratifying the agreement as soon as possible.

Iceland?s membership of numerous agreements concerning the increased liberalisation of international trade has provided support for the cross-border expansion of Icelandic enterprises. In this way, the Icelandic government?s foreign policy has created a favourable climate for Icelandic enterprises. The Foreign Service must constantly remain alert to the needs of Icelandic enterprises. It is important for the Foreign Service to be able to react swiftly and decisively in matters of important interest. In recent years, work has been in progress on bringing the work of diplomatic missions closer to the economic sector in various ways. In this context it is worth mentioning that increased co-operation between the Foreign Service and the Icelandic Export Council has returned good results. But more is needed.

For example, it will be necessary to redouble all our efforts to promote Iceland as a tourist destination. To this end, the Foreign Service will need to increase its co-operation with interest groups in the tourist sector as well as the government authorities concerned with tourism. In this respect it could be an option to build upon the co-operation agreement between the Iceland Export Council and the Foreign Ministry; also the national promotion campaign ?Iceland Naturally? in the United States is a good example of the results that can be achieved through increased co-operation.


Mr. Speaker


The importance of marine resources is an integral part of Icelandic foreign interests. The utilisation of these resources laid the foundation of the welfare of our nation and has been the driving force of progress in this country. The objective of the Icelandic government has been, on the one hand, to secure full control of our resources and, on the other hand, to ensure their sustainable utilisation for the future. In order for this to happen, the Icelandic government will have to remain alert, both at home and internationally. Public debate on the matters of the sea has been increasing, and the participation of the Icelandic government in international affairs has changed accordingly. Rising pollution, which, among other things, is a result of greater economic activity, demands for food security and the exponential increase in the fisheries catch in the world, has given rise to increased discussion. The nations of the world have awakened to the necessity of keeping a closer watch over the resources of the sea.

Increasingly, the international community is getting involved in the protection and utilisation of fish stocks and maritime areas. Proposals have emerged on global fisheries management. This is in direct contradiction with the basic thinking of the Icelandic government concerning the sovereign rights of states to their resources and the idea that the control of resource utilisation is best handled by the states with the greatest interest in their protection. The Icelandic government has placed great emphasis on protecting Iceland?s interests in this respect, and, recently, successfully blocked proposals for a global ban on bottom trawling submitted to the General Assembly of the United Nations and ensured that the issue was directed into the proper channels, namely to urge states and regional fisheries control organisations to improve the control of this kind of fishing.

In light of repeated violations on the part of the Norwegian Government of the Svalbard Agreement, the Icelandic Government has decided to make preparations to proceed against Norway before the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Preparations are well under way, and, among other things, an expert has been appointed from outside Iceland to write a detailed report for the Government to this end. At the same time, bilateral consultation meetings have been held over the Svalbard affair with various member states of the Svalbard Agreement, and those states have shown great interest in the matter.

As the Althingi has been informed previously, work is in progress on the report for submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in order to strengthen Iceland?s claims concerning the continental shelf beyond the 200-mile jurisdiction on the Reykjanes Ridge, in the Hatton-Rockall area and in the so called ?Herring Loophole?. On the initiative of the Icelandic Government, informal discussions were held between representatives of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark, acting for the Faeroe Islands, concerning the Hatton-Rockall affair. The next meeting is scheduled for later this month.


Mr. Speaker


Although a report of this kind will only touch upon the high points of the ongoing work of the Foreign Service, it nevertheless reflects the extensive scope of its tasks. The Foreign Service is an inseparable aspect of the sovereignty of Iceland and it is important that it should be put to good use in the service of the country and the nation. To this end, the Service has been strengthened in recent years. This does not alter the fact that the number of staff, location of diplomatic missions and contributions to projects abroad must be assessed both in the light of Icelandic interests at any time and from the point of view of the greatest possible efficiency.

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