Friday, June 28, 2013

Visiting with our visiting fellow Americans

One of the most important functions of an Embassy is to provide services for American citizens that reside in or visit Iceland. Sometimes it seems we don’t take enough time to sit down and talk to them about their experiences and our own. This week, I had the pleasure of welcoming and meeting the Kronlund family from Springfield, Massachusetts. Beth and Craig brought David, one of their three sons, who happens to be a Star Rank Boy Scout in Troop 32 in Springfield. The Kronlunds decided to take a hiking and biking tour in Iceland and wanted to learn about our Icelandic/American relations. I had a delightful chat with them about their visit and the deep friendship between Iceland and the United States.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

LGBT Rights in America take another major step

AP Photo
We welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a law that denied freedom and equality for LGBT Americans. The implications of this landmark decision are going to unfold over the coming months as the decision opened the way to eliminate rules and regulations that adversely affected the rights of many Americans. Secretary Kerry praised President Obama’s leadership. He added: "From Stonewall to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ despite setbacks along the way, the arc of our history on this issue has bent towards inclusion and equality, perhaps never more so than today." I share Secretary Kerry’s pride of the progress we have made.

Young Icelanders to the U.S. on educational program

Ambassador Arreaga (center) with Rebekka (left) and Adda (right)
I had the pleasure of bidding farewell to Adda Guðrún Gylfadóttir and Rebekka Rún Rósudótir Mitra as Iceland’s representatives in the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship program. Adda and Rebekka Run will join a group of other European and American youth, between the ages of 16 and 18, in a forum that promotes mutual understanding, leadership, and team-building with the goal of highlighting the strong bonds between European and American young people. The fellowship is a 4 week intensive program that incorporates lecture style learning with interactive challenges and experiments. The participants learn about numerous aspects of the transatlantic relationship while at the same time learning about “everyday America” and teaching Americans about their own countries. One exciting aspect of the program are the “home stays” in which participants stay with an American family for a few days to experience real Americana. Rebekka will go to Wake Forrest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Adda will go to Purdue University in Indiana. Both will also travel to Philadelphia, PA, and Washington, D.C., for multi-day activities. We look forward to hearing from Adda and Rebekka upon their return about the new ideas they have learned on this program.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Learning about early settlers in Eyjafjordur

For more than thirty years, the U.S. National Science Foundation has been funding several science research projects in Iceland covering a broad range of subjects. I had the pleasure of visiting one of those projects and to learn about an excavation site in Hörgárdalur where American, Icelandic, and other international scientists are digging a site that could date as far back as the ninth century. During a very informative conversation with Ramona Harris, an anthropologist from the City University of New York, we learned that the site could very well be early medieval or even Viking Age. Ramona showed us some of the artifacts (bone carvings and beads) found in the site. It is hard not to be impressed with the scientific partnerships between American institutions such as the National Science Foundation and Icelandic institutions such as the Institute of Archaeology (Fornleifastofnun Íslands) and the benefits that accrue to science and our understanding of the interaction between early settlers and their environment.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Snorri and the Sigudur Nordal Institute Programs

We had the pleasure of welcoming to the residence this year’s participants in the Snorri and Sigurdur Nordal programs. The Snorri program is a 6-week seminar for American and Canadian youth of Icelandic descent. The purpose of the program is to encourage participants to learn, nurture, and preserve the Icelandic cultural heritage in the multicultural societies of the United States and Canada. The Sigurdur Nordal Institute program, in partnership with the Arni Magnusson Institute, runs a joint course in Modern Icelandic for Undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota. Participants spend three weeks at the University of Iceland learning Icelandic and about Icelandic culture, society, and history. My conversation with these students was a reassuring reminder that future relations between Iceland and the United States will be in good hands.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Hiking up Helgafell

Summer is a great time to hike in Iceland. This week, I was invited to go up Helgafell by Ari Trausti Gudmundsson, Iceland’s best known naturalist, environmentalist, geophysicist, explorer, traveler, adventurer, and poet all rolled into one. The hike began during a brief rainstorm but midway through the hike it turned into a misty trek in one of Iceland’s beautiful settings. Ari Trausti was a fountain of knowledge and information about the geology and history of the area.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Cobb Partnership Award – bringing together the best from Iceland and the U.S.

I had the honor of participating in the biannual presentation of the Cobb Partnership Award, which is given to an American citizen dedicated to building bridges between Iceland and the United States.  This year’s award went to Beth Fox, Director of the National Sports Center for the Disabled.  Since 2006, Beth has made annual trips to Iceland, working as a ski instructor and visiting the Grensás Rehabilitation Center, as well as giving talks at the University of Akureyri and at various public events.  She has given a great deal of support to her Icelandic colleagues for the benefit of the disabled community in Iceland.  The Award is also a testament to the commitment to the Icelandic-American friendship by its creator, Ambassador Chuck Cobb, who represented the United States in Iceland between 1989 and 1992.  Ambassador Cobb donated the “Partnership” statue, which stands proudly on Sæbraut, to commemorate the enduring bonds between our two countries.  He is a fine example of a citizendiplomat.

Defense Attaches from ally nations descend on Iceland

We co-hosted a reception with my colleagues from Canada, France, Germany, Finland, and the United Kingdom to welcome a group of Defense Attaches from those countries as well as Italy, the Netherlands, and Finland. The group is visiting Iceland as part of what is becoming a yearly visit to Iceland to meet with the Icelandic Coast Guard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, and Search and Rescue institutions. It is great to see this group of like-minded officers working together to learn about the latest developments in Iceland and to touch based with key Icelandic institutions.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Engaging with the new Icelandic government

We welcomed Brent Hartley, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, who visited Iceland to engage with members of the new Icelandic government. He was warmly received by President Grimsson, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of the Interior. In each meeting he heard a clear commitment to stronger relations with the United States. Brent listened carefully and conveyed our corresponding desire to deepen our cooperation on a whole range of issues in foreign affairs, cyber security, economic, and trade relations. We have a broad agenda ahead of us.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Startup Iceland – the future is here

We are very proud to support the Startup Iceland conference which brought together a large group of Icelandic and American investors and entrepreneurs to explore ways to work together to strengthen the Startup eco-system in Iceland. We heard one American venture capitalist call this approach “coopetition.” The atmosphere was quite electric and the synergies between Americans in cities such as Portland and Boulder and Icelanders were quite encouraging. During a roundtable discussion between American and Icelandic investors at the residence it became quite clear that Icelandic startups have enormous potential to develop world beating products and that partnerships with American counterparts are key.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Vatnajökull National Park - The southern part

The next portion of our trip took us to Fjallsárlón lake - a beautiful glacial lake hidden behind a ridge. This is the place where certain tourists were stranded in the middle of the lake when the piece of ice on which they were having their picnic decided to break away.  It was the picnic that was heard (and seen) around the world!  We then stopped in Suðursveit-- the birthplace of Þórbergur Þórðarson an author who taught us to hear the rocks speak their wisdom.  Þórðarson was a renaissance man, prolific writer and social commentator. He famously said "My only wealth is philosophy" and "My only pride is wisdom."  The last sightseeing stop was the drifting glacial ice that landed on the beach across from Jökulsárlón.  They are easily some of nature's most beautiful sculptures. There are so many possibilities for cooperation between Iceland and the United States. Our proud history in establishing and operating national parks might offer Iceland with ideas as they strengthen their parks the Icelandic way to protect the jewels of Icelandic nature while educating and inspiring the growing numbers of visitors.