Iceland, U.S. FMs talk Arctic security, defence cooperation at Washington meeting

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Iceland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson at the State Department, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Alex Brandon/AP/via The Canadian Press)
Iceland – U.S. cooperation in Arctic security and defence issues was among the key issues discussed by the the two country’s foreign ministers at a meeting in Washington, D.C. this week.

Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met on Monday.

It was the first bilateral meeting for the two ministers since Pompeo was appointed last year.

“The changing strategic environment in the North Atlantic and the Arctic reinforces the importance of the longstanding security relationship between the United States and Iceland,” said the two ministers in a joint statement issued by the U.S. Department of State on Monday.

“Accordingly, we will enhance our consultations and cooperation within NATO and in maintaining the bilateral Defense Agreement.”

Reaffirming cooperation in North Atlantic

Iceland does not have a standing army. The United States has committed to Iceland’s defense on behalf of NATO since 1951’s bilateral defence agreement.

In 2016, the two countries signed a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation where the United States reaffirmed its commitment to Iceland’s defence, and Iceland agreed to continue allowing the U.S. and NATO to use Icelandic facilities “in order to reinforce mutual security.”

“Iceland and the United States have a longstanding and solid relationship, with regard to both security and defence as well as trade,” said Thordarson in a news release from Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday.

“The US is our single biggest trading partner and US tourists are the largest single nationality that visits Iceland. Moreover, we have many mutual interests in the High North. This meeting with Secretary Pompeo indicated clearly the will of the US government to strengthen the relationship between the two countries even further.”

Arctic Council

Both the United States and Iceland are members of the Arctic Council, an international forum made up of the world’s eight circumpolar nations and six Arctic Indigenous groups who work together on environmental and sustainable development in the North.

Arctic Council - Quick Facts

Year formed: 1996

Arctic Council Members: Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, United States

Permanent Participants: Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Saami Council

Current Chair:  Finland (2017-2019)

Iceland assumes the rotating two-year chairmanship from Finland in May.

Iceland’s preliminary chairmanship program “Together Towards a Sustainable Arctic” was revealed in November. Its outlined priorities include the Arctic marine environment, climate and green energy solutions, the people of the Arctic and strengthening the Arctic Council. 

In the joint statement Monday, Iceland pledged to “… work closely with the United States and other member states in furthering cooperation in the region.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at) 

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canadian military to build multi-million dollar facility in Northern city, CBC News

Finland: Finland to host major war games in 2021, Yle News

Greenland: Controversy over Greenland airports shows China still unwelcome in the Arctic, Cryopolitics blog

Norway: NATO’s Arctic dilemma, Radio Canada International

Iceland:  Alaska drilling, China, and the Arctic Council handover to Iceland : Northern news to watch for in 2019, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Troops in Russia’s High Arctic undergo “military-patriotic” training, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish military wants to double in size, Radio Sweden

United States: New symposium brings U.S. military’s attention to the Arctic, Alaska Public Media

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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