Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Iceland

Newsline: New US Embassy In Iceland But No Ambassador

A new home for the US embassy in Iceland is set to be completed in Reykjavík next summer. There is no work, however, on when the position of ambassador will be filled. The post has been unoccupied for 572 days, since the departure of Robert Barber. “All work in the embassy is proceeding according to routine under the leadership of the deputy ambassador,” the embassy’s public affairs officer Oscar Avila stated. Avila added that there is no way of knowing when the next ambassador to the country will be appointed. The projected cost of the new embassy building is ISK 6.7 billion ($62m/€55m). The building design includes bullet-proof glass in all windows and thick security walls around the property. This is the third time Icelanders have had to wait for an ambassador for a long period. Nine years ago, Robert S. Connan was appointed to take over the position from Carol Van Voorst, but never took on the position. Eventually Luis Arrega was appointed to the post, arriving in Iceland one year and nine months after Voorst left.


Newsline: China state media urges clarity on Iceland envoy spy rumour

A state-run Chinese newspaper on Thursday called on Beijing to clarify rumours that its ambassador to Iceland has been held for leaking intelligence to Japan, throwing a rare official spotlight on such cases. The envoy, Ma Jisheng, left Iceland mysteriously in January and has not been replaced, with Beijing only telling Reykjavik that he was unable to return for “personal reasons”, according to the Icelandic foreign ministry. The Global Times, which is run by the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece the People’s Daily, urged Beijing to clear the air, citing the need to raise the awareness of espionage risks among the Chinese public. Few spying cases involving Chinese officials have been reported in the domestic media, it said. “In actuality, reporting such incidents will educate many people by letting them know how close those manipulators of overseas intelligence agencies are to us,” the newspaper said in an editorial. Hong Kong’s Ming Pao daily, citing US-based Chinese-language website Mingjing News, reported that Ma and his wife “were suspected of giving state secrets to Japan and were arrested (in early February) by the Ministry of State Security.” Ma was a high-ranking diplomat in Japan from 2004-08. The Chinese government has so far failed to shed light on Ma’s whereabouts and a foreign ministry spokesman on Wednesday told reporters: “I have no information on this”.


Newsline: Chinese ambassador to Iceland arrested for spying for Japan

Chinese Ambassador to Iceland Ma Jisheng and his wife Zhong Yue have been arrested by Chinese authorities for allegedly spying for Japan, Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily reported Wednesday. “According to a Chinese official, the Chinese ambassador and his wife were accused of spying for Japan, and were arrested by China’s national security authorities in early 2014,” the Chinese-language newspaper reported, quoting the U.S.-based Mingjingnews. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has yet to confirm the report. The website of the Chinese Embassy in Iceland still carries Ma’s past remarks and speeches, including ones that condemn Japan’s past atrocities and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine. Iceland’s English-language Reykjavik Grapevine magazine reported on its website earlier this month that Ma left Iceland on Jan. 23 and was expected to return in March. Urour Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters that the Chinese Foreign Ministry informed them in May that Ma would not be returning. Ma worked as secretary at the Chinese Embassy in Japan between 1991 and 1995, and as commissar between 2004 and 2008. He returned to China and became deputy director of information in the Foreign Ministry before assuming the ambassadorship to Iceland in 2012, according to the report.


Newsline: Embassy in Moscow takes over issuing of visas for Iceland

The Embassy of Iceland in Moscow has taken over issuing of visas to Iceland from the Danish Embassy. Applications for visas continue to be received at the VFS Global service centres but can also be handed in at the Icelandic Embassy in Moscow. VFS Global specializes in services for visa applicants and Embassies and operates 875 service centres in 87 countries. To begin with, visa applications for Iceland are received at the service centres in St. Petersburg and Moscow.


Newsline: Iceland and Myanmar Establish Diplomatic Relations

The governments of Iceland and Myanmar have formally established diplomatic relations after a meeting between the Permanent Representatives of both countries to the United Nations last week. Ambassador Gréta Gunnarsdóttir and Ambassador Kyaw Tin announced the decision in New York last Wednesday, as stated in a press release from the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Newsline: Iceland’s interest in Canadian dollar causes diplomatic embarrassment

The dream of some Icelanders of adopting the Canadian dollar as the country’s official currency turned into a diplomatic headache in Ottawa. The problem began when Canada’s ambassador to Iceland, Alan Bones, gave a radio interview saying Canada would be open to the idea of sharing its currency with its northern neighbour. “We’re certainly open to discussing the issue if Iceland makes that request,” Bones said in the interview with Iceland’s national broadcaster. “What we know about the nature of the final agreement depends very much on the expectations of both countries. But in a straightforward unilateral adopt of the Canadian dollar by Iceland where it’s clear there’s no input into monetary policy then we’d be certainly open to discussing the issue.” Bones comments came in advance of a speech he was to deliver Saturday at a currency conference in Iceland. But after his remarks hit the headlines, Ottawa said Bones would “not be participating in the Icelandic conference tomorrow on currency matters, and will not be speaking on the issue.” Ottawa also said it doesn’t comment publicly on other countries’ currencies. “This is an issue for the Icelandic government and people,” foreign affairs spokesperson Ian Trites said in a statement released late Friday. Part of the problem is the government of Iceland hasn’t made an official request. Instead, the currency issue is the subject of a developing political battle within Iceland. For the moment, it’s a group of Icelandic business leaders and opposition parties who are pushing the idea, with what they say is strong support from Icelanders themselves. “It’s quite popular with Icelanders,” said David Gunnlaugsson, chairman of the opposition Progressive Party, noting a recent poll found 70 per cent support for the idea of adopting the loonie. The Icelandic krona is worth less than one Canadian cent at current exchange rates. Nearly as many Icelanders live in Canada as live in Iceland, due to a massive exodus in the early 1900s to escape volcanic eruptions, he said. It’s no secret Iceland has been desperate to replace its wobbly krona with a more stable currency after the global financial crisis in 2008 decimated three of its largest banks, along with the country’s economy. Icelandic government’s response has been to apply to join the European Union with a view to eventually adopting the euro as its currency. That plans looks less appealing now that the future of the euro is threatened by the ongoing Greek debt crisis. Canada’s dollar and stable banking system look pretty good to some Icelanders these days. Iceland’s population is just over 300,000 and its economy is less than one per cent of Canada’s. There are precedents. El Salvador and Ecuador have both unilaterally adopted the U.S. dollar in the past dozen years, and Kosovo has the euro.


Newsline: US Embassy Dlaims Iceland Wikileaks Probe Legal

US Ambassador to Iceland Luis E. Arreaga was informed about the parliamentary immunity of MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir at a meeting in the Icelandic Foreign Ministry with the ministry’s undersecretary Einar Gunnarsson and international law expert Tómas H. Heidar. At the meeting Arreaga was also asked for information about what lies behind the US Ministry of Justice’s demand that social network Twitter release personal information on the Icelandic MP. The US Embassy to Iceland maintains that the US authorities’ inquiries into the MPs online communication via Twitter are legal. “We assured the Icelandic government that the investigation of the United States Department of Justice is in accordance with American law and follows all guidelines on court regulations and a fair trial affirmed in the United States Constitution and the appropriate federal law,” the embassy’s spokesperson Laura Gritz said in an announcement released after the meeting. A press release from the ministry says that in addition to calling for information, Gunnarsson and Heidar expressed their concern that an Icelandic MP is the subject of a criminal investigation of this nature. They explained that Jónsdóttir has parliamentary immunity in Iceland and that she cannot be separated from the Icelandic Althingi parliament in this manner. They stressed that there should be no further disruption to her work as an MP, including her rights to travel and participate in international political discourse. In the subpoena delivered to Twitter on Friday, information about five persons was requested, in addition to Jónsdóttir, Wikileaks editor Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, the solider who is believed to have leaked a host of documents from the US Foreign Service, and two hackers, one American and one Dutch. Twitter informed the five individuals about the US authorities’ request. They have until after next weekend to fight the release of information. Jónsdóttir traveled to Canada yesterday where she will speak at a conference on the freedom of information. She had originally planned to fly through the US but in light of recent events she decided to fly through London instead.



Newsline: Iceland demands answers from US embassy

The American ambassador to Reykjavik has been summoned to explain why U.S. investigators are trying to access the private details of an Icelandic lawmaker’s online activity as they try to build a criminal case against WikiLeaks. Revelations that the U.S. Justice Department obtained a court order to examine data held by Twitter Inc. on Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian who sits on the country’s Foreign Affairs Committee, immediately caused consternation in the tiny North Atlantic nation. “(It is) very serious that a foreign state, the United States, demands such personal information of an Icelandic person, an elected official,” Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson told Icelandic broadcaster RUV. Jonsdottir is a one-time WikiLeaks collaborator also known for her work on Iceland’s media initiative, which aims to turn the island nation into a free speech haven. Jonsdottir told The Associated Press she was too overwhelmed to comment Sunday, but in a recent post to Twitter, she said she was talking with American lawyers about how to beat the order — and was drumming up support in Iceland as well. U.S. Ambassador Luis E. Arreaga has been summoned for a meeting at Iceland’s Foreign Ministry to discuss the issue, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Urdur Gunnarsdottir said Sunday. It was not clear when the meeting was taking place. U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik said no one there would be available for comment until Monday. The evolving diplomatic spat illustrates the challenge American prosecutors face as they weigh whether to bring charges against WikiLeaks, an international, tech-savvy operation that has angered and embarrassed Washington with a series of huge leaks of classified information. A court order unsealed earlier this week revealed that American authorities had gone to court to seek data from Twitter about Assange, Jonsdottir, and others either known or suspected to have interacted with WikiLeaks. Some of those named in the court order have said they suspect other companies — such as Facebook Inc., Google Inc., and the eBay Inc.-owned Internet communications company Skype — have also been secretly asked to hand over their personal data. Assange and Jonsdottir have vowed to fight the court order.



Newsline: Iceland investigates possible US embassy spying

The government of Iceland is investigating whether the U.S. Embassy is spying on Icelandic citizens. The Icelandic Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has launched an inquiry after other Nordic countries said they were investigating the practice in their countries. U.S. Embassy officials in Iceland have said no espionage is taking place but have confirmed that the embassy does have a counter-surveillance program in place to protect the embassy from security threats. The inquiry in Iceland follows similar concerns expressed by governments in Sweden, Denmark and Norway after media reports publicized U.S. embassy actions there.