Monday, September 30, 2013

Northern Challenge tests international EOD cooperation

We joined a group of colleagues on a visit to Keflavík where the defense forces from the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, France, and Austria joined the Icelandic Coast Guard to test their skills and operations in explosive ordinance disposal (EOD). The exercise, organized by the Icelandic Coast Guard, gives participants an opportunity to practice responses to real life scenarios involving bomb threats.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Visit to the Sýslumaður in Selfoss

We had the pleasure of paying a visit to Ólafur Helgi Kjartansson, the District Commissioner (Sýslumaður) with the seat in Selfoss (South Iceland). This is a very important position in the Icelandic legal system as the incumbent has a broad range of civilian and law enforcement areas. Our Embassy deals with this office mostly on consular affairs. We are grateful for the support this office provides to American citizens.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Réttir at Jökulgil and then some

This weekend I had the privilege of joining an extraordinary group of Icelanders to participate in the annual sheep roundup at Jökulgil--a spectacular valley of color and unique rock formations. The Icelandic independent and hardy spirit is alive and well with this tradition.  We also took the opportunity to drive up Rauðufossafjöll for unforgettable views of Iceland's mighty glaciers and an up close look at Hekla in the splendor of a very clear day.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Iceland and 40 other nations in communications exercise

I had the pleasure of meeting with an Icelandic/American communications team participating in Combined Endeavor--an annual communications interoperability exercise involving 41 nations sponsored by the U.S. European Command (EUCOM). This year, Iceland hosted a forward communications site at the Keflavik Air Base for the first time.  This is a valuable exercise for Iceland because it is testing the ability of the country to communicate vital information with allies and partners under challenging circumstances such as natural disasters.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Building the Largest Artwork in the World

We had the pleasure of meeting Ingvar Björn Þorsteinsson, a creative Icelandic artist that wants to put together the World's Largest Artwork.  He devised an app using social media to ask people to contribute a brush stroke. The project will last for 66 days in celebration of the 66th anniversary of UNICEF. At the end of the project, the art piece will be auctioned with proceeds going to UNICEF. The current record for participatory art is 201,948 artists, and Ingvar Björn wants to break it for a great cause.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Welcoming our new Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM)

Personnel transitions are an integral part of embassy life, and one of the most important is the arrival of a new DCM.  This week we hosted a formal welcome for Paul O'Friel and his wife Grace. They've been here for about one month, and it is fairly clear that they are quite taken by Iceland's natural beauty, weather, and most importantly by its people. I know that Paul and Grace will do their utmost to build many more bridges between Iceland and the United States.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

NASDAQ picks Iceland for worldwide conference

This week we welcomed the opportunity to address a NASDAQ-hosted semi-annual conference which brings up to 100 financial market experts from all over the world to share best practices in regulating exchanges. We had a chance to lay out our perspective on the Icelandic economy and the opportunity it presents for NASDAQ OMX to increase the capitalization of Icelandic firms. NASDAQ is an excellent vehicle to support Iceland’s economic recovery.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Ice Circle initiative taking shape

We attended the closing of the working group meeting organizing the Ice Circle Initiative, which brings together a group of NGOs led by Iceland’s Vox Naturae, governments, the World Bank, and other multilateral organizations. The Ice Circle is focusing on mobilizing international public awareness and policymakers to address the disappearing ice and shifting snow cover due to climate change. It is quite sobering to know that ice and snow today account for up to one-third of the planet’s total land surface and are crucial to ecosystems.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Syria Crisis as Seen from our Embassy in Reykjavik

I have observed with interest the public debate in Iceland about the crisis in Syria and it seems that, on balance, Icelanders and Americans are grappling with many of the same dilemmas:  How to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians by the Assad regime without causing further suffering?  How to stop the use of chemical weapons by a regime that until recently had never acknowledged having them?  How to test whether Assad is serious about turning his chemical weapons over to the international community?  Should U.S. efforts to build an international consensus be supported?  These are all valid questions that need to be addressed carefully.  In doing so, I would urge Icelanders to examine the path taken by President Obama and to think about the case that President Obama made to the American people last night. Click to watch the Presidents remarks. He closed his remarks with this:  “America is not the world’s policeman.  Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.  But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Remembering our shared sacrifices

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Hinrik Steinsson who is an avid collector of World War II memorabilia.  We were duly impressed with the quality and breadth of his collection, especially since all of it has a connection to Iceland.  One of his most significant pieces was a letter signed by President Roosevelt to a General who had served as commander of the U.S. forces in Iceland during the war.  These pieces of memorabilia are reminders of the shared sacrifices that Iceland and the United States endured during that terrible war.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Oooooohhhh Bacon!

For the third year in a row a group of very enthusiastic and energetic Iowans descended upon Iceland and joined with an equally passionate group of Icelanders to celebrate the very popular Reykjavik Bacon Festival.  The event, which attracted thousands of Icelanders to Skólavörðustígur, offered a taste of bacon and many other delicacies in a festive environment for the whole family. This year, Members of the Board of Bacon and their Icelandic partners were received and welcomed by the Prime Minister. This event came together as a result of the personal connections between Iowans and Icelanders established through educational exchanges many years ago. Next year’s event promises to be even bigger.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Leifur Eiríksson’s legacy honored through educational exchanges

This weekend Mary and I had the honor of participating in a dinner with the Board of the Leifur Eiríksson Foundation; we also met a group of outstanding American and Icelandic students who have benefitted from the Foundation’s scholarship program. The Foundation was established on the occasion that marked the millennium since Leifur Eiríksson’s voyage to Vínland (currently known as North America). The Icelandic Central Bank and the U.S. Congress partnered to mint silver coins to commemorate the event. Proceeds from the sale of those coins were used to establish the Leifur Eiríksson Foundation and its fund for educational exchanges. Since 2001, more than students from the United States and Iceland have received scholarships to attend each other’s universities to pursue graduate studies in a broad range of fields. While the sale of the coins provided the basis for this fund, its ongoing ability to expand its excellent work relies on the generosity of American and Icelandic individuals, organizations and corporations that believe in the power of educational exchange to change lives and build connections between our nations. This is another example of how deep and important the ties between our countries really are.