Monday, December 19, 2011

Another visit to the Icelandic Media

During a visit to the National Broadcasting Company (RUV), I had the opportunity to learn about the uniqueness of the Icelandic state-owned broadcasting institution model and the challenges it confronts staying relevant as a media institution.  This is a challenge that all media organizations confront these days.   What is unique about RUV is that it receives both state funding and private sector advertising revenue, which I understand makes it the only such state-owned company of the Scandinavian Network of state broadcasters.   It is evident, that RUV is doing very well in a healthy competitive environment, judging by the popularity of its programming.  Despite my best efforts, I could not get anyone to reveal what will be in this year’s Áramótaskaup.   

Friday, December 16, 2011

A visit to the Game of Thrones set

We were very excited to learn that the producers of Games of Thrones intended to film part of the
second season in Iceland. The visit gave us the opportunity to highlight how the American television industry partners with the Icelandic film industry in producing very popular and successful shows. We drove up to the Höfðabrekka glacier to meet with the producer, director, and some of the actors during filming. It was a lot of fun to watch some of the scenes being filmed against spectacular, but very cold, Icelandic scenery. I nearly froze during the visit and I can’t figure out how the crew managed to stay warm throughout the entire day. Can’t wait until the second season of the program starts.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mixing business and fun

One of the interesting aspects of being an Ambassador is that one gets to conduct serious business and occasionally have fun along the way. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the company 365, one of Iceland’s important media conglomerates. There was a real “electricity” to this hub of print, broadcast, and internet media. One learns a lot about a country by observing its media institutions. As I was given a tour, I met two of Iceland’s best known TV personalities, Sveppi and Auddi, as well as Hemmi Gunn. I also recognized many famous faces from Stöð 2 news and “Ísland í dag.” I really enjoyed this part of the visit.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The ties that bind

This weekend, I had the pleasure to join the Thanksgiving Dinner organized by the Fulbright Alumni Association at Nitjánda in Kópavogur.  It was a fun-filled evening of music, dance, camaraderie, and reflection.  We were all sharing that moment thanks to the vision of the late Senator William Fulbright, who established a program designed to increase the understanding between the people of the United States and the people from other nations.   In the Icelandic/U.S. context, over 1,300 grantees from Iceland and the United States have had the opportunity to study, teach, or carry out research in either the U.S. or Iceland.   At the event we had artists, journalists, musicians, lawyers, diplomats, engineers, psychologists and many other professions.   Seeing such an impressive group of Icelanders and Americans conversing, sharing a meal, and working together to strengthen the ties between our countries was an inspiring experience and one that reminded me how Icelandic and American societies share the core values that identify our nations.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Iceland

This year we celebrated Thanksgiving by hosting a lunch for all of our embassy colleagues.  In a departure from most events hosted at the Residence, this was a more informal affair.  My American and Icelandic colleagues made this an event that truly honored the sharing spirit of Thanksgiving and the holiday season by bringing some of their favorite dishes to share with everyone else.  We all sat happily enjoying each other’s company and having a rather fulsome taste of traditional American cuisine mixed with some wonderful Icelandic dishes.  It was a lot of fun and a moment to reflect about how lucky we were to share that moment together.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A weekend of wonderful music

This weekend gave us the opportunity to attend two wonderful concerts.  On Saturday we heard the Reykjavik Opera Choir, under the direction of Garðar Cortes, perform “The Mass” by Robert Sund.  The solo performances were given by soprano Karin Björg Torbjörnsdóttir and tenor Aron Axel Cortes.  It was an uplifting performance by all.  On Sunday we attended a concert given by tenor Þórarinn Jóhannes Ólafsson and accompanied by Krystyna Cortes. We were particularly interested in Þórarinn´s performance because he sang the Icelandic national anthem at our Independence Day celebration on July 4th.  Þórarinn showed his range by performing several Icelandic and traditional opera songs (he even sang one piece from “The Godfather).  We were grateful for his willingness to return to the stage several times to share his artistry. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

The thrill of space travel shared with Iceland

It was quite an honor to meet Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, an astronaut with the U.S. space program.  She came to Iceland to share her compelling life story growing up in rural Washington State and her journey that took her to space five times with the Shuttle Space program.  She shared her experiences with a mesmerized audience at the University of Iceland.  Dr. Dunbar’s story had a very interesting Icelandic twist.  While she was in high school, her school hosted an Icelandic exchange student named Árni Sigurðsson.  Árni and Bonnie remained lifelong friends; she became an astronaut and he became a pilot for Icelandair.  This visit was made possible by Icelandair, the University of Iceland, and the Icelandic-American Society – a wonderful group of Icelanders dedicated to strengthening ties between Iceland and the U.S. through educational exchanges.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Capturing carbon dioxide and converting it into a clean renewable fuel

A few days ago, I visited the Carbon Recycling International (CRI) plant near Grindavík.  The plant, designed in the U.S. and constructed with American materials, is the first of its kind in the world.  A CRI official explained that the plant captures, cleans, and transforms carbon dioxide emissions into methanol—a clean burning fuel.  In fact, local fuel distributor N1 is already selling gasoline mixed with ethanol produced by the plant.  I filled up a U.S. Embassy hybrid vehicle with this fuel blend today.  The CRI plant moves Iceland ever closer to achieving 100% reliance on renewable energy—it is already 80% there.  CRI hopes to build three more plants in Iceland and eventually export methanol to Europe.   CRI is also interested in expanding its operations in the U.S. and is working with several top research institutions there.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Remembering our war veterans

This past Sunday, a small group of Icelanders and colleagues from other Embassies attended a ceremony at the Fossvogur Cemetery organized by the British Embassy.  We gathered to honor those who gave their lives for their countries.   British, Canadian, Russian, Norwegian, German, Australian, and American representatives laid wreaths on the monuments that honor the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  We were honored to have the Icelandic Foreign Minister, as well as the Chief of Protocol from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, join us as we also paid tribute to those Icelandic sailors who lost their lives in periods of war.

Monday, November 14, 2011

An evening with Manuel Barrueco

During a memorable evening at the Kópavogur Theater, Mary and I had the pleasure of listening to American Master Guitarist Manuel Barrueco.  His interpretations were at once moving and technically superb; the Icelandic public gave him a standing ovation.  He played pieces from Bach’s Cello Concertos, and music from Piazzolla, Albeniz, and Tarrega.   Barrueco teaches at the Peabody Conservatory of Music at John Hopkins University. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Supporting the Icelandic Search and Rescue Teams

I was looking forward to another opportunity to support the Icelandic Search and Rescue Teams—a unique and highly effective model of community-based model of volunteer service. The tradition of American cooperation with Icelandic Search and Rescue teams goes back decades and it included many joint operations and training with U.S. armed forces. We look forward to continuing and expanding our relations with these groups.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The paradox of success and failure in engineering

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Prof. Henry Petroski on the paradoxical relationship between success and failure in engineering.  Prof. Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and Professor of History at Duke University. His lecture is part of a series to celebrate the University of Iceland’s centennial.  Professor Petroski’s point is very simple and paradoxical:  success in design is achieved by anticipating failure; in other words, if we want a design to succeed we need to anticipate how it might fail so that the design includes features that prevent such potential failures.  On the other hand, if we adopt a successful design, chances are that it will fail somewhere down the line.  If readers are intrigued by this notion, I would encourage them to watch the lecture onhttp://www.hi.is/myndbond/dr_henry_petroski%C2%B4s_lecture.   It is quite energizing to see how the interaction between two great universities (Háskóla Íslands and Duke) can illuminate our lives.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Congratulations to the Icelandic Opera

I never cease to be amazed at the quality and range of artistic talent in Iceland, and the Icelandic Opera’s opening performance of “The Magic Flute” this past Saturday is no exception.  The performance at Harpa was at once awesome and fun.  Heartiest congratulations to the Icelandic Opera and best wishes for a successful season. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Greening the U.S. Embassy

I was delighted to welcome two Hybrid Ford Escapes to the Embassy’s vehicle fleet in Iceland.  The use of these vehicles will make a modest contribution to American and Icelandic efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.  The U.S. has been proactive in promoting the use of renewable energy at home and abroad, including through partnerships with Iceland and others to facilitate the use of geothermal energy in island nations.  As our government also strives to use leading technologies in our own operations, we are delighted to do our part to lower our carbon footprint.  We look forward to continuing to explore the use of green technology to improve our operations in Iceland. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Boeing tests latest 747 in Iceland

Mary and I had the pleasure of having an up close and personal look at Boeing’s new 747-8I, which was in Iceland recently to undergo performance testing. This is the latest version of Boeing’s veritable aircraft.  While it looks very similar to previous 747 models, it shares its wing design, engines, interior, and cockpit with Boeing’s latest technological marvel:  the 787 Dreamliner.   Many of us dreamed of faraway places when we saw our first 747 so many years ago.  It was quite exhilarating to have a close look at the newest version of the plane in one of the faraway places we once dreamed about.  Iceland and Boeing’s partnership runs deep as Boeing has been coming to Iceland for years to test its aircraft under windy conditions and Icelandair’s entire fleet comes from Boeing.  

Friday, September 23, 2011

Century Aluminum’s Norðurál plant -- a success story

Yesterday I had the chance to visit the Norðurál aluminum plant in Grundartangi and to hear about the “Icelandic“ model it has used for managing the company, for providing opportunities for Icelandic contractors, and for supporting the community.  The American owned plant is operated by highly skilled Icelandic employees.   After an investment of over $1 billion (118.66 milljarðar ISK ) the benefits to Iceland are evident:  over 500 direct jobs, increased Icelandic exports, and benefits for the communities surrounding the plant and Reykjavik.   Norðurál, for example, sponsors the the Akranes ÍA football team and also co-hosts one of Iceland's largest football tournaments for the younger generation.  The United States also benefits by having such close investment relations with Iceland.   I can understand why the community in Reykjanes looks forward to the establishment of a similar plant in their area.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Icelandic War Time Museum

Reyðarfjördur also hosts the excellent Icelandic War Time Museum. The photos and memorabilia collection are excellent as they evoke a time when Iceland, the U.S. and the United Kingdom partnered to save their way of life.  The museum has plenty of anecdotes that highlight the deep ties between our countries. The museum also reminds today´s generations of the sacrifices that many Icelanders and Americans made so that we can live in freedom today.  The Museum Director, Pétur Sorensson, is an inspiring force whose energy and dedication built a fine museum.  It was also a great surprise to learn that Pétur had spent time in Honduras at the same time I served there during overseas post.  His Spanish is excellent.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Höfn

In Höfn, we had the pleasure of meeting Hjalti Þór Vignisson, one of the youngest, if not the youngest mayor in Iceland. His energy and enthusiasm for the city and its surroundings was contagious.  He told us about his plans for the future and his successful efforts to put the city on a sound financial footing.  We also ate together what I consider the best langoustine in Iceland at Humarhöfnin (Lobster harbor).  I highly recommend it for anyone looking for an incredible meal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The NATO radar station in Höfn

I visited the radar station in Hofn, one of four NATO radar installations in Iceland.  The facilities are first-class thanks to the dedication and professionalism of the Icelandic authorities responsible for their operation and upkeep. These facilities play a critical role in the collective security of NATO, of which Iceland is a founding member, but more importantly, these facilities also give Iceland essential situational awareness about what is going in the airspace around the country. This is critically important for search and rescue operations at sea.  One can say that these radars are Iceland's eyes and that we are all better off having them. 

Ham at NASA

The Reykjavik rock music scene is well known around the world and has a well deserved reputation for being creative and unique.  This is why my wife and I gladly accepted an invitation to a concert by Ham, a venerable Icelandic Rock band that has gained loyal audiences in the U.S. and the U.K.    To be honest, we really liked the music which set a mood reminiscent of impending doom.   The vocalists drew the audience with interesting modulations and sudden twists and turns.  We were afraid we were going to be the oldest members of the audience, but we were glad to see others who belong to our cohort enjoying the music.   With this performance and what we have heard at Harpa (the concert hall) and during Reykjavik’s Culture Night, we have been exposed to a wide range of Icelandic performers of techno, rock, classical music, and traditional Icelandic songs.   This is truly an artistic country.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11

On Friday at 12:46, our Embassy gathered around our flag to honor the memory of the nearly 3,000 innocents we lost on September 11, 2001 and to reflect on the importance of keeping true to their memory.  Several friends joined us and among them was Gunnlaugur Erlendsson, an Icelander who happened to be in New York on the fateful day and who volunteered to assist our search and rescue workers in their search for survivors.  We expressed our gratitude to Gunnlaugur, which  we also extend to the Icelandic nation for their many offers of assistance and their heartfelt sympathy for us in the wake of that tragic day.  

Elves, Kjarval, and whales in Borgarfjörður Eystri (Bakkagerði)

Much has been written and said about "the hidden people," elves, gnomes, and trolls in Iceland. Many of us from the outside wink, enjoy the stories, and move on. My elf experience in Borgarfjörður, just below Álfaborg (the capital of elves and fairies), was a bit different when I visited the Álfasteinn or the Elf Stone Museum. While my wife, Josh Rubin and I crawled into the replica of an elf family dwelling and listened to the tale of Snotra the Cursed Queen, it was easy to be drawn into the story and imagine the world of elves and their interaction with humans. This was possible thanks to the dedication of Bryndís Snjólfsdóttir and Arngrímur Viðar Ásgeirsson who built the Álfasteinn Museum. Borgarfjörður also hosts a museum about Jóhannes Kjarval, Iceland’s greatest painter, who spent much his life in the area and drew amazing portraits of the townsfolk. The visit was capped with the unexpected appearance of minke whales in the fjörd. Their appearance reminded me of Kjarval's stern opposition to whaling all those years ago when it was less controversial. He was truly a great man and a visionary.

The prosperity of Reyðarfjördur

I have been very interested in visiting one of the areas that hosts an aluminum smelter and decided to go east.  I was impressed by the vitality, prosperity and positive outlook of Reyðarfjördur, which hosts Alcoa's state-of-the-art Fjarðaál plant.  City officials and others I met were very pleased with the enormous benefits that Fjarðaál has brought to the community.  Besides the obvious 
employment benefits, Fjarðaál has shown the true meaning of corporate social responsibility.  Alcoa supports projects and activities that strengthen several communities in the area.  Of particular note is its "Alcoa Foundation," which is a partnership between Alcoa and several NGOs aimed at supporting the environment and equal employment opportunities.  Fjarðaál's investment model is truly unique and beneficial to host communities.  I suspect many other communities in Iceland would love to partner with Alcoa.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Emigration Center in Vopnafjörður

Vopnafjörður hosts the East Iceland Emigration Center in Iceland.  As with many such institutions, this one is the result of the dedication and hard work of individuals committed to the preservation of ties between North America and Iceland.  In this case, Cathy Josephson moved from Lyon County, Minnesota to Vopnafjörður in 1995 after visiting Iceland and discovering her roots.  Ever since, Cathy has helped Icelanders, Americans, and Canadians reestablish family connections lost long ago.  We arrived the day after an American family had met for the first time their long lost relatives in the area.  It was a clearly moving moment for the families and Cathy.  We also met with Þórunn Egilsdóttir, the Chairman of the Vopnafjörður Town Council.  She shared with us her optimism that oil, gas, and mineral exploration in the Drekki area off the Icelandic Coast will bring much needed investment and economic activity to the region.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Danilo Perez


Wow!  It has been quite some time since I have experienced the energy, creativity, and inspiration of Danilo Perez's music. His performances in Reykjavik received wide acclaim and he touched Icelandic artists like I haven’t seen before. Danilo also commented that his Icelandic audience was the best he has had and was most impressed by their impromptu performances.  Jazz is truly a music that brings people together and Danilo epitomizes the world musician who transcends cultures and geography.  We are very proud to have partnered with the Reykjavik Jazz Festival in bringing Fulbright scholar and master jazz pianist Danilo to Iceland.  This also gave us an opportunity to highlight diversity in the United States and to share the contributions of Hispanics to American culture as this month we commemorate Hispanic Heritage.   We’ll be talking about this for a while.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pearls of Icelandic Songs

This Sunday, I was lucky to attend the Pearls of Icelandic Song concert at Harpa.  It was a truly beautiful experience to hear some of Iceland’s traditional songs (lullabies, love songs, folk songs) performed beautifully by Natalia Druzing Halldórsdóttir and Bragi Bergþórsson with the peerless accompaniment by Birna Hallgrímsdóttir.  The songs evoked Iceland’s stunning landscapes, the country’s compelling history, folklore and traditions, as well as the immense creativity and artistry of its people.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Culture Night – a fabulous experience

Many people had told me that Culture Night would be a unique experience and they were right.   It started early in the morning with the Marathon and ½ Marathon.  While my time in the latter wasn’t that great, the energy of the run carried on to the rest of the day.   Early in the afternoon, the city of Seattle was honored to be the feature of City Hall’s festivities owing to the invitation by Mayor Jon Gnarr to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Sister City relationship between Seattle and Reykjavik.  It was so great to see so many Icelanders and their families enjoy the Quileute Nation’s traditions, performances by Tomten and Bob Culbertson, Bill Stafford’s photo exhibit, and for so many children to enjoy the puppet theater Giraffe & Staff.  I heard that the thousands of Icelanders who enjoyed a cup of Seattle’s Best Coffee and Chateau Ste. Michelle wine were very impressed.  Finally I observed the many thousands who enjoyed the performance of the White Sox All Stars.  We are very energized by Reykjavik’s embrace of Seattle and we are determined to build on that goodwill.   Seattle and Reykjavik have much in common and we look forward to stronger ties between both cities.    

Photography in Iceland

I was invited to observe for one day the work of Focus on Nature, an Icelandic firm that offers week-long photography workshops for a small group comprised of amateur and experienced photographers, many of them Americans.  The workshop involves taking participants around Iceland’s stunning landscape and holding daily evaluation sessions with world-renowned photographers (Seth Resknick from the U.S. and Ragnar Þór Sigurðsson from Iceland were the leaders during my observation).  The workshop participants seemed to enjoy the camaraderie and learning.  It was a very interesting experience that took us to the crater of Eyjafjallajökull and the southwest coast of Iceland.   It should not be surprising that so many Americans participated in the workshop as U.S. tourists comprise the largest national group visiting Iceland this summer.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Culture Night – Can’t wait for it!


The organizers of Culture Night invited me to participate in the press conference announcing the program for Culture Night.   I was pleased to note how honored we are with the City of Reykjavik’s invitation to the city of Seattle to be the guest of honor for that event.   This year marks the 25th anniversary of Reykjavik’s and Seattle’s relationship as sister cities.   The city of Seattle is bringing a great line up of cultural ambassadors (rock groups, musicians, puppeteers) and business representatives.  I am pleased to note that members of the Quileute Nation will also attend to share their culture, traditions, and art.   I know that Icelanders will immediately see the value of the relationship between the two cities.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sharing an Iftar dinner in Iceland

We were honored to host an Iftar dinner for leaders of the Muslim community in Iceland.  As sunset approached (at almost 10 p.m. at this time of year in Iceland), our guests were able to gather and mingle.  At the appointed moment, the muezzin chanted the call to prayer then led a brief ceremony.  Then we all broke the fast together.  It was a good moment to reflect on the values we share with Muslims around the world.  As President Obama noted recently, Ramadan is a festive time that is anticipated for months by Muslims everywhere and it is also a time of deep reflection and sacrifice.  As in other faiths, fasting is used to increase spirituality, discipline, and consciousness of God's mercy.  It is also a reminder of the importance of reaching out to those less fortunate - another one of the values we share with Islam.   I look forward to further engagement with the Muslim community in Iceland and to learning more about their faith and experiences in Iceland.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Embassy Participates in Reykjavik’s Gay Pride Parade


A group of Embassy volunteers marched in Reykjavik’s Gay Pride Parade a few days ago.  We wanted to show our hosts that the United States supports the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals to lead productive and dignified lives, free from fear and violence.  We also wanted our participation to celebrate diversity.  Aside from enjoying the festivities and seeing so many families along the parade route, we were heartened by Reykjavik’s reaction to our participation as we heard applause and many expressions of encouragement along the way.  Iceland has a strong record of support for LGBT individuals and we were very proud to be a part of this event.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hawaii and Iceland: A budding partnership?

Yesterday I met with Roald Marth and Richard Ha, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Ku’oko’a, a Hawaiian based enterprise with a vision to rid the state of its dependency on fossil fuels through the development and use of renewable energy resources.  The similarities between Hawaii and Iceland are obvious:  both are islands populated by extremely independent and enterprising people and both sit on enormous geothermal resources.  We are optimistic that Iceland and Hawaii can become partners in renewable energy and other initiatives that take advantage of their respective locations as gateways to Europe and Asia respectively.
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Reykjavik Gay Pride Parade
There is a great deal of anticipation at the Embassy for our first-ever participation in Reykjavik’s world famous Gay Pride Parade.   Our participation is meant to honor the courageous individuals who have fought to achieve the promise that all people can live with dignity and fairness under the law, especially those individuals who led that fight for LGBT individuals.  We look forward to being a part of this event.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A classic story of strong U.S. and Icelandic ties

Last evening reminded me of how deep the connections between Iceland and the U.S. can be.   I welcomed Ragnheidur Lilja Lennon Þorðardóttir and her family to our residence.  Ragnheidur Lilja, who goes by Lee in the U.S., is celebrating her 90th birthday with her extended family of Icelanders and Americans.  Her very rich life not only bore witness to an important period in Icelandic American relations but it shows how our two countries have grown closer together.  As a young Icelander, she met and married a dashing Air Force pilot in the early 1940s.  Their first child was born in Iceland and she then followed her husband to Germany, Japan, and many other places in the world until she settled back in Iceland as a widow and eventually moved to the United States.   Her children are as much Icelanders as they are Americans; they visit Iceland frequently to spend time with relatives.  One of them joined the U.S. Foreign Service.  As we shared a few moments together, it occurred to me that the question of nationalities never came up.  The fact that this family had both American and Icelandic citizens in their midst is seen as a perfectly normal state of affairs.   It is reassuring to know that stories like this are very common.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The great work of the Icelandic-American Society

I met with the President and two board members of the Icelandic American Society and learned about some of the great work they have been doing for several decades.  The Society, which is dedicated to promoting Icelandic and American culture, is perhaps the oldest of its kind in Iceland.  They are also responsible for administering the Thor Thors Memorial Fund which awards grants to Icelandic students conducting research or graduate level studies in the United States.   I am very excited about the potential for close cooperation between the Embassy and the Society as we are both working towards the same objective:  strong relations between the peoples of Iceland and the United States.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Westman Islands


Ambassador Arreaga and Óskar Jakob Sigurðsson

Two days in the beautiful Westman Islands provided a brief snapshot of this amazing place.  I had the honor of meeting Óskar Jakob Sigurðsson, a living legend in Iceland and beyond.  He takes care of Iceland's last manned lighthouse, collects scientific air and rain samples, and holds the world record for the largest number of birds tagged for conservation purposes.   Universities and institutions from all over the world benefit from his service, including NOAA and the University of Miami.  I also saw the vestiges of the 1973 eruption, when the island's inhabitants showed the world what ingenuity and perseverance can accomplish when they slowed down and eventually stopped the lava that threatened to engulf their city.  I was proud to learn that the U.S. Navy provided many of the pumps used to pull water from the sea to cool the lava.  It was also impressive to learn how the islands’ economy is thriving with very strong fisheries and tourism industries.   I can’t wait to return and hike some of the nearby cliffs.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thank You Icelandic Glacial

In April and May of this year, the central and southern regions of the United States were hit by a series of devastating tornadoes that left a trail of unimaginable death and devastation.  The areas affected included Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.   We were pleased to learn that Icelandic Glacial donated 43 tons of water in support of relief efforts in several of these areas.  To facilitate the delivery of the water, we understand that Icelandic Glacial partnered with Anheuser-Busch.  We are grateful for this donation and for Icelandic Glacial’s commitment to support the victims of natural disasters.

U.S. Arctic Research Commission visits Iceland

It was a pleasure to welcome Fran Ulmer, Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, and the majority of the Commission's members to Iceland.  The Commission develops goals and objectives for the U.S. Arctic Research Program.  Commissioners participated in the “The 7th International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences“ in Akureyri and traveled to Reykjavik to meet with officials from some of Iceland’s foremost research institutions (Marine Research Institute, the Icelandic Meteorological Office, The National Energy Authority, and RANNÍS).  They also were received by President Grímsson.  The visit is a concrete result of the May 17 Washington meeting between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Skarphéðinsson where they discussed strengthening cooperation on Arctic research.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Honoring Icelandic and American Sailors

On the occasion of the visit of the USCG Barque Eagle, I had the opportunity to fly in an Icelandic Coast Guard Helicopter to meet up with the Eagle and participate in a wreath laying ceremony 30 km west of Borgarnes in Faxaflói at the site where the USCG Alexander Hamilton sank on 29 January 1942 as a result of war hostilities.   The Alexander Hamilton, which was protecting merchant convoys crossing the Atlantic, was the first USCG vessel sunk in WW II. Twenty-six sailors were killed instantly; six died later of their injuries; ten more injured men required hospitalization.  81 sailors were rescued by Icelandic fishing trawlers. The lighthouse Garðskagaviti in Gardur, which is the tallest in Iceland, was built in 1944 as a gift from US Coast Guardsmen in gratitude for their rescue by Icelandic sailors.  The wreath laying ceremony, which honored the sacrifices made by American and Icelandic sailors during war, was an opportunity to reflect on the ties of friendship between the United States and Iceland.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Welcome to the Eagle

What a magnificent spectacle it was to watch America’s tall ship, the U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle, come in to Reykjavik Harbor and to be able to sail with the crew for a few minutes as she came into port.  This wonderful ship brought with it a crew of 200+ sailors, many of whom are young cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.   The Icelandic Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard have a longstanding tradition of friendship and cooperation and this was evident in the camaraderie between them during the ride-in. The Eagle is open to public tours and I hope that many Icelanders will visit it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

U.S. and Iceland are strong Arctic Partners

"Ambassador Arreaga addresses participants
 at a welcoming reception for the 7th International
Congress of Arctic Social Sciences in Akureyri"
I attended the opening ceremony of and co-hosted a reception in honor of the “7th International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences“in Akureyri. The event brought together about 500 scientists and officials focused on Arctic issues. I am pleased to report that the United States had a robust contingent of representatives at the Congress including universities in Alaska, Idaho, Washington, Vermont, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Oregon, Montana, Virginia, Iowa, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Massachussets, Maryland, South Dakota, New Hampshire, New York, as well as representatives from several U.S. government agencies such as the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, the National Science Foundation, and the North American Space Agency (NASA). The breadth and depth of U.S. participation constitute clear evidence that American and Icelandic cooperation on Arctic science and research is strong and my sense from multiple conversations I had with conference participants is that our cooperation will grow substantially over the coming months.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bravo - Reykjavik Arts Festival


Last night my family and I attended the performance by American soprano Barbara Bonney at Harpa and it was absolutely incredible.  She mesmerized the audience with the works of Schumann, Grieg, and Strauss, all of which were beautifully accompanied by pianist Thomas Schuback.  This was the last performance of the series from this year’s Reykjavik Arts Festival. Our Embassy is proud to have supported Ms. Bonney’s performance and to have been a part of this year’s program. 

Visiting the West Fjords

The beginning of our trip to the West Fjords began auspiciously when we took the ferry from Stykkisholmur to Brjanslækur. We were treated to an impromptu performance by the University of Iceland choir.  Watching the majesty of Iceland's fjords while listening to the melancholy sound of Icelandic songs was an unforgettable experience and it set the tone for wonderful journey that took us to the Red Sands, Látrabjarg, Patreksfjördur, Bíldudalur, Dynjandi, Hrafnseyri, Isafjörður, Súðavik, Hólmavik, and back home to Reykjavik. The West Fjords are a must for anyone interested in exploring the many wonders that Iceland has to offer.

American connections in the West Fjords

I never ceased to be amazed at the American connections in Iceland. The Isafjörður Music School is a great example.  Its first director, Ragnar Ragnar, was an American citizen of Icelandic descent whose U.S. Army tour of duty brought him back to Iceland, where he decided to stay and share his musical talents with Icelandic school children. Then there is the Bolafjall radar site, which was built by the U.S. in support of NATO's operational needs, especially search and rescue operations. There is also the University Center of the West Fjörðs, where I met American students earning their Master's Degree in Coastal and Marine Management.  We are also proud to support the upcoming participation by the Ensemble ACJW (strings and oboe) from Juilliard School in New York at the Við Djúpið Music Festival. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Delta brings the U.S. and Iceland closer together

Photo Courtesy of KOM
It was such a pleasure to be a part of the inaugural festivities associated with Delta’s entry into the Icelandic market.  The new route between New York’s JFK and Keflavik will expand opportunities for Americans to see the wonders of Iceland and for Icelanders to access every part of the United States and Latin America quickly.  It was fitting that the first flight from JFK was piloted by Captain John Magnusson, one of many highly successful Icelandic émigrés to the United States.   Delta’s commitment to corporate social responsibility is already evident with its sponsorship of one of Iceland’s premier events:  Culture Night.   I can’t wait to be a part of those festivities as well.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The thrill of driving an electric car

I have to say that getting behind the wheel of a 2011 Chevrolet Equinox with an electric motor was a dream come true.  I've read about electric cars and how some day they will revolutionize the automobile industry, but little did I know that day would come right here in Reykjavik.  Northern Lights Energy, an innovative Icelandic firm, is working with AMP Electric Vehicles in the United States to import more than 1,000 of these electric vehicles into Iceland.  The first vehicles arrived last week and I had the opportunity to test-drive one of them.  Northern Lights Energy and AMP Electric Vehicles are doing everything in their power to put Iceland at the leading edge of countries adopting electric car technology.  I was only too happy to be a part of this effort.  Yet another example of Americans and Icelanders working together.

Friday, May 27, 2011

American and Icelandic friends join to honor sacrifice

Last week, I had the honor to hike up Fagradall Mountain to lay a memorial wreath at the site where the plane carrying Lieutenant General Frank Andrews and thirteen other American servicemen crashed during bad weather on May 3, 1943. Lt. Gen. Andrews was the Commander of U.S. Forces in the European Theater of Operations at the time of his death and is widely considered to be the father of the modern U.S. Air Force.  It was moving to stand over the wreckage of the plane that took so many young and promising lives far away from their home.  The U.S. armed forces stationed in Iceland at that time were working with our Icelandic friends to ensure that critical war materials were safely delivered to our allies in Russia.  On his final mission, General Andrews was flying to Iceland to visit his forces.   I was especially touched by the participation of several Icelandic friends who thought it was important to join us on that hike.  I will never forget their gesture as it reminded me of the deep connections between Iceland and the United States.  These connections are worth preserving.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Icelandic and American Executives Share Experiences

We had the pleasure of hosting a dozen members of the Empire State Young Presidents Organization (YPO) Chapter a few days ago.  YPO brings young Chief Executive Officers together to share experiences, network, and have a bit of fun at the same time.  The Empire State Chapter visited Iceland as part of their regular retreats.  We brought them together with a group of young Icelandic CEOs and elected official for an evening of mutual learning and networking.  I must say the energy emanating from both groups was quite contagious.  We are hopeful that the visit will serve as the foundation for more exchanges between our executives and even the founding of an Icelandic Chapter of YPO. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Congratulations on Harpa

My wife and I were among the lucky guests to hear the first concert by Iceland's symphony and opera at Harpa.  This once-in-a-lifetime experience for the senses will be forever etched in my mind as one of the high points of our time in Iceland.  It is not surprising that many world renowned magazines and newspapers like the New York Times rave about the building's architecture and design.  The performance was so uplifting that it brought many people to tears.  It was a deeply moving experience.  Iceland and Reykjavik have much to be proud of and Harpa has just joined that list.  Hearty congratulations to all involved in the project. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Samhjalp – a shining light in Iceland

I had the privilege of volunteering for a few hours at the Samhjálp soup kitchen this past Saturday and it was an inspiring experience.  It was inspiring to observe first-hand the commitment of Vilhjálmur Svan Jóhannsson whose energy and creativity sustain a network of critically important service centers that support the neediest in Iceland.  His compassion and commitment constitute an instructive lesson for those of us who are blessed with families and jobs. I was also impressed by the energy of Samhjálp’s employees and other volunteers who worked relentlessly and enthusiastically to serve Samhjálp’s clients with a smile.  Several businesses (bakeries, restaurants, supermarkets, caterers) provide support for Samhjálp, but more is needed, especially in these difficult times.  I would encourage readers to consider giving a few hours a month to help this cause:   www.samhjalp.is.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bifröst University
There is nothing like driving out of Reykjavik after a long dark winter and once again enjoying the splendor of Iceland´s landscape.  This week I had the chance to participate in Bifröst University´s International Day and to learn about their unique contributions to education.  The one-of-a-kind campus provides an excellent setting for their approach to education, which relies heavily on teamwork and community.  We’d like to see greater links between Bifröst and American universities and will be looking into helping establish those links.  I look forward to the opportunity to engage with Bifröst students and learn from their experiences.
Icesave
As Iceland prepares to vote on the Icesave referendum, it has been interesting and impressive to observe the ongoing debate among its citizens.  There is nothing a foreign diplomat can or should say about the merits of this issue.  I would note, however, that among the most enlightening discussions I have watched was Silfur Egil’s April 3 interview with Lee Buchheit.   The interview explained very lucidly the technical elements of the agreement and how these were dealt with in the negotiations. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Libya

The situation in Libya has weighed heavily on everyone's minds these last few weeks.  The acts of brutality that Col. Qadhafi has committed against his own people are repulsive.  It was heartening to witness the international community's decision to put an end to these atrocities by enacting UN Security Council Resolution 1973.  The decision to move forward with military action in Libya was not an easy one, nor was it taken lightly.  In some exceptional circumstances, however, force must be used to safeguard the liberty and well-being of innocent people.  This was clearly such a case.

The United States is working with its European allies’ armed forces to establish and enforce a no-fly zone to protect the Libyan people.  We are also contributing material and financial resources to provide humanitarian assistance to the Libyan people.  Iceland’s support for UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and its financial assistance to the region reflects the best of Iceland’s humanitarian traditions.  Iceland's continued engagement is needed as the international community debates options on giving the Libyan people a path to democracy, liberty and basic human rights.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Reykjavík Art Museum

Reykjavík‘s Art Museum is quite impressive and thought provoking.  During a brief visit, kindly guided by Hafþór Yngvason, Museum Director, I heard about his vision for the museum not only at Hafnarhús, but also at Kjarvalsstaðir and the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum. Hafþór, a longtime resident of the Boston area, is an excellent bridge between our countries. He highlighted some of these connections through the “Without Destination“ exhibit, which includes works by American artists Roni Horn, Peter Hutton, and Deborah Stratman. The Erró exhibits at the Museum are amazing and deserve a good bit of time. I suspect my wife and I will become regulars at the museum.  I look forward to visiting the other two.

Friday, March 18, 2011

American Film: the perennial window into U.S. society

 
It was such a great experience to hear Richard Peña’s fascinating lecture “Business as Usual: A Brief Tour of the History of American Business as Seen through the Movies” at the Bíó Paradís. Richard has been the Program Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Director of the New York Film Festival since 1988. He showed clips of several movies dating back to the early twenties, the fifties, and the 21st century.  Sometimes we think we are dealing with new dilemmas, but Richard’s presentation reminded us that many of the questions we are dealing with today about the relationship between business and society have been around forever. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Iceland‘s Food and Fun Festival

It was fun to be a part of Iceland‘s increasingly famous Food and Fun Festival.  Americans and Icelanders share a passion for good food and the Festival provided a great opportunity for American Chefs to share their art with counterparts from Iceland and Europe.  The gala dinner, which was dedicated to Washington, DC, included great American classics like Maryland crab, Virginia Ham, and a crowd pleaser: Mac‘n Cheese.  We look forward to next year‘s event!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Heartbreak in Japan

Japan‘s earthquake and the devastation it brought upon the Japanese people is heartbreaking.  But from within all the depressing images shown vividly in our televisions and newspapers is a bright light that reflects the resilience, industriousness, and perseverance of a people we know will prevail over this calamity.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Iceland and American law students engaged on hot topics

U.S.Ambassador to Iceland Luis Arreaga (right) welcomes
law students from the University of Iceland and their
 guests from Ohio Northern University.
I had the pleasure to welcome at my residence a group of Icelandic law students from Háskóli Íslands who were hosting a group of law students from Ohio Northern University as part of an ongoing 40-year program of exchange visits between both universities.  We took the opportunity to ask both groups their views on ongoing national debates in their respective countries.  Icelanders had very clear and well informed opinions on issues such as the Icesave agreement, Iceland’s application to the European Union, and the Icelandic Constitution; their American counterparts had similarly informed views on the U.S. budget deficit, the path to economic growth, and ongoing debates about labor union rights.  It was reassuring to hear that the future leaders of our countries are quite engaged on the issues of the day.

Libya’s challenges to the International Community

As the world watches in horror the atrocities brought upon the Libyan people, there have been calls for the international community to act swiftly and for the United States to stop the bloodshed.  President Obama and Secretary Clinton have sent a clear message that Colonel Qaddafi and his government will be held to account for their actions.  In the meantime, the United States is working with the international community, especially multilateral organizations, in putting together and contributing to a package of measures designed to provide humanitarian support, evacuation assistance, economic sanctions, and arms embargo, and other measures to stop the bloodshed.  No single country can or should deal with this issue. It is a shared responsibility.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Reykjanesbær´s vision

Sigrún Ásta Jónsdóttir, Director of the Duuhús Heritage
Museum, discusses the exhibit "The Base: Our Neighbors
Behind the Fence" with Mayor Árni Sigfússon and
Ambassador Arreaga.
I had the opportunity to visit Reykjanesbær last week. It is very easy to walk away with a sense of great optimism after hearing the Mayor’s vision for the area and seeing firsthand the work going on at the Duushús, Viking World, and the Keilir Institute. It is absolutely amazing what Iceland has accomplished in only four years since the Keflavik base closed and it´s quite impressive to hear the plans they have for the future. Everywhere I went, I could see large and small reminders of our shared history. I can fully understand the mixed feelings on both sides that accompanied the closure of the base. Looking to the future, it is great to see American firms interested in the area, as witnessed by the plan to build a silicone factory and interest in expanding aluminum operations and establishing data centers. Our Embassy is committed to supporting Reykjanesbær for years to come.


Iceland´s countryside

A little over a week ago I had the pleasure of visiting a farm near Selfoss and to experience Icelandic hospitality at its best. The home-made food, the Brennivin toast, the coffee, the conversation and the Icelandic singing made us feel very welcome. With all due respect to my fellow humans, the best part was being able to "meet" Icelandic horses and sheepdogs. They are truly noble animals.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Connections between Iceland and native North America

Bob Soppelsa (left) with Ambassador and Mrs. Arreaga (center).
Mr. Soppelsa gave invited guests a sneak peak at the
Ambassador's exhibit.
This week we received our “Art in Embassies” collection for my residence.  A good portion of the art is from native artists who are members of North American nations that flourish north of 60 degrees latitude.  One might think there is little in common, besides geography, between Iceland and these North American nations, but that is not the case. Some of the Haida andKwakwaka’wakw pieces in the collection underline the importance of spirituality for these nations and their strong connection to the sea. I know Icelanders easily identify with both of these concepts.  We also wanted to share art that was created by artists with a global perspective.  Two of the artists in the collection spent a good portion of their lives in the Foreign Service where they picked up themes and techniques that provide unique perspectives.  Art is truly an international language.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


First-ever worldwide Conference of U.S. Ambassadors

I had the privilege of attending the first-ever worldwide conference for U.S. Ambassadors. It was a historic event where we had the opportunity to hear from our top leadership and to compare notes with colleagues from every corner of the globe. Secretary Clinton challenged us “…to engage in renewing our alliances, forging new partnerships, and elevating diplomacy and development alongside defense as pillars of American foreign policy and national security.” She laid out clearly the budget difficulties we confront and shared her thinking on how we can accomplish our mission by taking fresh approaches to the way we do business, especially through interagency coordination. Vice-President Biden spoke to us about the challenges we confront throughout the world but shared his optimism about our ability to work with our partner countries. Overall, it was a fantastic week of learning, sharing experiences, and hearing clear messages from our leadership.

Hablando español en Islandia

Yes, I had a chance to speak my native language with a group of vibrant Icelanders who are studying Spanish at the University of Iceland. I was impressed with their knowledge of the language as well as their interest in foreign affairs. This was part of the Embassy’s efforts to provide Icelandic students with information about studying in the United States. We were quite pleased to hear that several of them would like to do so.

Icelandic Federation of Trade’s annual meeting

The Federation honored me with an invitation to speak to the group at their annual meeting. I used the opportunity to share my views on Iceland’s enormous economic potential and the importance of having a clear and predictable business environment to attract investment (both domestic and foreign). I enjoyed meeting the federation’s leadership and several of its members.

The Love Walk

The closing event of the Winter Lights Festival was quite interesting and charming. There is something very European about walking around a pond following a musical band and a group of people holding torches. The walk was punctuated by fire breathers, spontaneous huggers, and a small group of singers. My family and I enjoyed it very much. In a very typical Reykjavik fashion, we had blue skies, sleet, and snow in the space of one hour.

Ambassador Arreaga with Spanish and French students from the University of Iceland.