RÆÐA HALLDÓRS ÁSGRÍMSSONAR, UTANRÍKISRÁÐHERRA, Á FUNDI MEÐ VARÐBERGI OG SAMTÖKUM UM VESTRÆNA SAMVINNU
It gives me great pleasure and I am greatly honoured to address these distinguished organizations in these early days of the new Government. I addressed the Trade Council of Iceland at a meeting on 2nd May, but this is the first general speech I have given on foreign affairs as Foreign Minister.
I should state that this speech should not be interpreted as a foreign policy declaration of the new government. A policy declaration will be presented to Parliament in the autumn followed by debates there, as is customary.
In this summary I shall be dwelling rather heavily on developments in the field of security policy, which seems appropriate here. This does not mean that other aspects of foreign affairs will in any way be neglected during this Government's term.
But I should like to begin by saying a few words about what this nation owes its existence to, the natural resources of the sea.
Natural resources, environmental and Arctic issues
I scarcely need to tell you that Iceland's relationship with Norway and Russia in fishing matters has been in the spotlight in the last few weeks. In its discussions with Norway and Russia on cod catches in the Barents Sea, Iceland has emphasized that these friendly nations should recognize our claim to a reasonable quota in relation to the size of the stock. No solution was reached at our last meeting, but it is still the aim and the aspiration of the Icelandic Government that a reasonable and permanent solution be found, which would include an acknowledgement of Iceland's right to fish in the Barents Sea.
Last week, I had the opportunity to discuss this matter with Norway's Foreign Minister and Minister of Fisheries, as well as Russia's Minister of Fisheries. We do not wish to be in confrontation with our neighbouring countries and I hope their governments will show Iceland more understanding.
Much the same applies to negotiations on catches from the Norwegian-Icelandic herring stock. It is hardly credible that Norway has unilaterally allotted itself and Russia a quota of 650,000 tons this year without consulting Iceland or the Faroe Islands and then expects them to agree to very limited catches. The Norwegian-Icelandic herring stock is, of course, just as much Icelandic as it is Norwegian. We have continually asked for negotiations on the management of the stock. The Norwegians must not forget that prior to the collapse of the stock in the late sixties, the spawning stock of the Norwegian-Icelandic herring spent 7-8 months of the year in the sea north and east of Iceland but only 2 months in Norwegian waters. In the next few years, large year-classes will join the spawning stock and it is expected gradually to resume its previous migration patterns.
Iceland has no intention of advocating over-fishing from the Norwegian-Icelandic herring stock, which would be just as detrimental to us as it would be to others. The aim is to allow the stock to regain its former size and thereby increase the likelihood that it will resume its previous behaviour pattern. We believe we have a right to be consulted on the protection and the exploitation of the stock. A recent agreement between Iceland and the Faroes must be viewed in this context.
Iceland hopes that the common interest of the nations in the North-Atlantic will be secured through a responsible fisheries policy, not only as regards the herring stock but also generally.
The sixth meeting of the UN Conference of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks will be held in New York this summer. At the end of the last conference, the chairman of the conference put forward a new draft for an international agreement which will hopefully be concluded at the conference this summer. A UN High Seas Agreement would be an important contribution to the legal basis which would apply in the future to fisheries management in international law.
Effective protection of the environment and prevention of marine pollution are of great significance to Iceland. The threat to the future security of a fishing nation such as ours stems not only from over-fishing, but also from changes in the biological marine resources caused by pollution. Pollution knows no boundaries and can only be dealt with through international cooperation.
It is important that we maintain close cooperation with our neighbouring countries in order to achieve good results. I will make every effort to involve Iceland in the international cooperative ventures taking place in our part of the world. These include the projects we have undertaken with the other Nordic Countries, the United States, Canada and Russia. I hope an agreement between these nations on the establishment of an Arctic Council will be concluded next year. I have worked hard towards this goal within the Nordic Council, and will continue to do so as Foreign Minister.
Nordic and European cooperation
Last autumn, when it became evident that three of the Nordic Countries
would join the European Union, while two would stand outside it, there was great concern that Nordic cooperation would be seriously weakened and that Iceland and Norway would be isolated internationally and be excluded from close cooperation of European States within the European Union.
Now, more than six months later, it is evident that there was no cause for alarm, as the Nordic Countries reacted to this new situation both quickly and firmly.
Last December, the Ministers for Nordic cooperation and the Presidium of the Nordic Council established a special working group, in which I participated, to put forward proposals on the adjustment of their cooperative mechanism to meet this new situation. The working group delivered its proposals to the Nordic Council last March, where they were discussed.
The Prime Ministers of the Nordic Countries approved a special declaration last January on developments and priorities in Nordic cooperation in the light of the new situation I have just mentioned. There were three main points in the proposals of the working group and the declaration of the Prime Ministers.
Firstly, they stress that traditional Nordic cooperation is based on the common values and culture of the Nordic Countries and their common views on democracy, environmental issues and the social rights of their citizens. It is also stressed that cooperation between the countries shall be aimed at strengthening these common values and should be concentrated on issues of "Nordic utility". By this it is meant that cooperation should principally be concentrated on those issues which are more practically solved by common effort rather than by each individual state.
Secondly, the proposals stress the role of Nordic cooperation in the broader context of European cooperation in the European Economic Area and the European Union. Nordic cooperation should be a forum for the exchange of ideas, information and initiatives with a view to promoting the viewpoints of the Nordic Countries, either individually or collectively, at European level, and influencing the debate there. Furthermore, the proposals call for the smooth and homogenous implementation of the EEA Agreement and argue that Nordic cooperation should be utilized to build a bridge between Nordic EFTA/EEA States and the EU.
Thirdly, the proposals give priority to increased Nordic cooperation with neighbouring regions, i.e. the Baltic states and the north west regions of Russia, as well as broad-based cooperation between the Nordic Countries on Arctic issues.
With reference to the third point and Iceland's declared policy over the past few years, it is indeed satisfying that Iceland has now become a member of the Council of Baltic Sea States, of which other Nordic Countries have been members from the outset. Later this week, I will be attending the Council's meeting where Iceland will be formally accepted as a member.
At a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Nordic Countries in Copenhagen less than a week ago, a report on Nordic cooperation in the international fora, which was initiated by the Ministers at the request of the Prime Ministers, was put forward and adopted. The final declaration of the meeting expressed general satisfaction with the contents of the report, which confirmed that powerful Nordic cooperation is to be continued in international fora. Furthermore, both the Ministers' declaration and the report refer to a draft Joint Declaration by the European Union and the EFTA States of the EEA on political dialogue and other matters which could serve as basis of closer cooperation between the non-EU Nordic Countries and the European Union. It was particularly emphasized that the Nordic Countries within the EU will, as far as possible, ensure an active exchange of views between the EU, Iceland and Norway.
At an EU Council meeting on 6th March last, a reply to the EEA States, Iceland and Norway, concerning their wish for increased political dialogue on the basis of the EEA Agreement, was agreed upon. There, an increase in political dialogue on issues of mutual concern between the EU and the EFTA States of the EEA was confirmed, especially on issues on the agenda in the international fora and "vis-a-vis" third countries. This political dialogue is elaborated in a draft joint declaration of the parties, to be approved in an EEA Council meeting on 30th May.
Thus, it is clear that intensive work is being done both towards strengthening Nordic cooperation and ensuring, on the basis of this cooperation as well as the EEA Agreement, our influence on developments in our part of the world in as many areas as possible. The Government believes that there is no danger of Iceland becoming isolated due to the current developments in Europe.
The EEA Agreement and the development of the EU
The Government has emphasized that a close watch must be kept on developments in the EU, and that the EEA Agreement, which is the basis of our dealings with the EU, must be strengthened. The fact is, that our largest and most important market is within the EEA and most of our allies are members of the EEA. It is therefore very important that our interests there are secure.
In order to ensure the implementation of the EEA Agreement and the interests of Iceland "vis-a-vis" EU, the number of representatives from ministries in Iceland's Standing Committee at the EU in Brussels has been increased. Furthermore, every effort will be made to establish effective relations between our embassies in the capitals of the EU States and authorities governing EU-related issues. We should realize that it depends on us how effective the EEA Agreement will be.
Extensive discussions lie ahead, both within and outside the European Union, in connection with the Intergovernmental Conference which is expected to start at the beginning of next year. These discussions are as important for Iceland as for other EFTA States in the EEA. Any ideas regarding changes to the EU and the enlargement of the Union in the future must be kept under close observation. Bilateral relations with the principal EU States must be strengthened.
Recently, at a bilateral meeting between Icelandic and German officials it was decided to increase the flow of information and dialogue between German officials and the Icelandic embassy in Bonn on the Intergovernmental Con\-fer\-ence and other important EU-related issues. The Germans stressed the importance of the EEA Agreement and expressed their willingness to forward the Icelandic viewpoint within the European Union, in relation to changes likely to take place there which could affect the EEA Agreement. Such friendliness shown by one of the most powerful states in Europe is extremely valuable to Iceland. A meeting with the German Foreign Minister where these issues will be discussed is planned for the future.
Other issues related to trade and marketing
I have emphasized the importance of involving the Diplomatic Service to a greater extent, in serving the economy abroad. This work will not only be directed towards our traditional markets in Europe and the United States but also the Far East, South America and Africa. In this respect, I stress that new working methods should be adopted and that all our export products should receive equal treatment. In the developing countries, multiple opportunities in the fisheries sector await to be exploited by Iceland.
In the Government's policy declaration the parties in power stated their principal aims to increase export during their term in office and to make efforts to attract foreign investors. In short, this entails an increased marketing effort for Icelandic products and services on foreign markets, supporting cooperation with foreign companies and nations and making a systematic effort to arouse the interest of foreign investors in Iceland. The idea has come up within the Government of forming a working group, composed of representatives from the three ministries dealing with these issues, to make proposals on future organization and policy.
More importance has been attached to trade in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Embassies and standing committees have been instructed to promote Iceland and Icelandic products whenever possible. The establishment of an embassy in China is an important step, since its main role is to deal with trade. A Trade Attach' has been appointed to the Icelandic Embassy in Moscow. I intend to emphasize the role of embassies and standing committees in recommending Iceland as a feasible option for foreign investors as well as promoting our export products.
As is widely known, seven years of continuous negotiations were finally concluded in April last year with the signing of the Agreement establishing the World Trade Organization (WTO). Iceland is one of the founder members and I attach great hopes to its activities in the future regarding increased freedom in international trade. It is beyond question that trade disputes create tension in relations between states. GATT has played an important role as a forum for solving trade disputes and has thus reduced trade-related tension. The World Trade Organization now observes new and more effective rules on the settlement of disputes as regards issues falling under its sphere of competence. These rules will ensure better supervision over its implementation and likewise strengthen the legal status of Member States in international trade. Opportunities in international trade arising from Iceland's membership of the World Trade Organization must be exploited.
Five decades have now passed since the end of World War II. However, less time has passed since another turn of events took place in security matters of Europe, when the leaders of the CSCE States (now OSCE) declared, less than five years ago in Paris, that the period of conflict and hostility was over in Europe. The Cold War had come to an end and a new era of democracy, peace and solidarity commenced. This declaration of the leaders on 21st November 1990 marked the beginning of a new era and the expectations attached to it have by and large come to pass. Firm strides towards democracy have taken place in most of the former Communist countries, and economic reforms have been significant. This development has nevertheless also entailed disappointment. States formerly held together by tyranny started to fall apart. The Soviet Union dissolved into fourteen states, Yugoslavia into five states and Czechoslovakia into two. These reforms have stirred up old disputes. Bloody conflicts between ethnic groups erupted in many places when "witch hunts" for scapegoats started. Sadly, in spite of the world community's great efforts, these local conflicts have not yet been resolved.
However, the speedy development in international issues is relentless and solutions must be found to these problems. As always, we have been reminded of the fact that economics and security are inseparable. Lasting peace will never be realized without prosperity and conflicts can never give rise to long-lasting welfare. The strengthening of the economy and security (must) go hand in hand in order to preserve peace.
For the third time this century, we are facing the challenge of establishing security and stability in Europe. However, the situation now is more promising than ever before because this time there is no need to establish new organizations or institutions for this purpose, since these already exist. Furthermore, in spite of everything, there is a general trend in European States to solve problems by cooperation and collaboration instead of the use of force. There is a general consensus on the objective of bringing about a new order in Europe to ensure long-term cooperative security and stability. However, we face the problem of reaching a decision on how the new security arrangement should function and how to implement this comprehensive political will. The tragedy in the former Yugoslavia is a case in point. The unsuccessful efforts by the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States to promote peace have considerably decreased the confidence of the general public in peacemaking, and despite numerous resolutions of the UN Security Council, very little headway has been made.
Several international organizations are now working purposefully on proposals for the future arrangement of Europe's security structure and on its adaptation to the ever-changing conditions in Europe.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the cornerstone of peace and security for nearly five decades, will inevitably play the same role far into the coming century. In the last few years the Alliance has made an enormous effort to adapt to changed conditions. This work has largely been inspired by pressure from the former Communist States, which believe that their security is best ensured through membership of the Alliance. Several NATO decisions, for example the establishment of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) and the programme on "Cooperation for Peace", have already resulted in increased stability and security in Europe. However, it is clear that this operation will not be sufficient for some of the Central and Eastern European States. In the light of this, the summit meeting of NATO in January 1994 decided to declare the Alliance open to new Member States, and the Foreign Ministers of NATO confirmed this last December. It was decided to examine and define the arguments supporting the enlargement of the Alliance and how such an enlargement should be carried out. The work on this has now commenced and the results are expected before the end of the year. Only then will it be discussed which states are eligible for accession and when such an enlargement should occur.
We must face the fact that such an enlargement will lead to considerable changes in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is of great importance that such changes should neither diminish Iceland's position within the Alliance in any way nor our security-political position in general. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we monitor this complex deliberation at NATO closely and that Iceland's voice should be heard when needed. It should be remembered that the two Nordic Countries which are not NATO members, Finland and Sweden, are aware of the importance of the security-political adaption of the Alliance and have actively participated in political dialogue within the North Atlantic Cooperation Council and the programme on "Cooperation for Peace".
The Western European Union has also begun systematic work on evaluating the development of security issues in Europe and possible reforms in that respect. Cooperation between the Western European Union (WEU) and NATO and the role of the WEU as the forthcoming forum of the European Union (EU) in defence matters, illustrate the large steps taken recently towards a more secure Europe. Iceland's associate membership of the WEU, which formally came into force on 6th March last, will enable us to monitor security-political developments within the EU without heavy commitments on our part. Although the nature of their association with the WEU varies, the Nordic Countries have a common forum for cooperation within the WEU.
The European Union is now looking towards next year's Intergovernmental Conference for the preparation of a common EU policy on foreign affairs and security. It is still not clear how the WEU fits into that pattern, although some ideas in this respect have already emerged.
There seems to be unity on the idea that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should provide the basis for future European cooperation in security matters, since it is the only security organization which embraces all the countries of the continent. The summit meeting last December decided to launch a study of a security model for Europe. Work on this project is in the initial stages and will not be fully under way until next autumn. It is of great importance that this should be carried out in such a way that the OSCE will be a truly pan-European security structure and that its future credibility will be ensured. The role of the OSCE in the field of human rights and increasing work in the field of conflict prevention and peacemaking is undisputed. The Council of Europe also contributes essential work in the field of human rights and the development of legal procedures.
However, on the sideline of this complex development stands the largest and most powerful state in Europe, Russia. It is inevitable to take her viewpoint into consideration. Nevertheless, Moscow can not insist on leading the way in the development of security matters. The situation in Russia is still somewhat unclear and there are many questions regarding reforms. The course of events in Chechnya shows that stability in this vast state is yet far from being realized. Furthermore, the forthcoming parliamentary elections in December and the presidential elections in June 1996 are evidently beginning to affect the position of the Russian Government, as is reflected in the rash statements on the enlargement of NATO and inflexible demands concerning the amendment of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).
It is vital that we reach a consensus on how to manage the complex development which characterizes security in Europe today, since minor issues could result in a new division of Europe. Most important, comprehensive trust and frankness must prevail between the organizations and parties I have mentioned. The aim must be to increase and strengthen security and stability for the benefit of all.
The complex debate on the future structure of European security concurrent with the imminent enlargement of the EU and NATO and the continuing uncertainty on developments in Russia shows the importance of maintaining the same level of consultations between the Nordic States on the future of European security, taking into account particularly the different position of these states within the various organizations of Europe.
It is hardly necessary for me to stress here the importance of the relationship with the democratic states in North America, particularly the United States, as regards stability in Europe. Our fundamental policy in security matters has not changed; our security still rests on our NATO membership and the bilateral Defense Agreement with the United States. This fundamental view is underlined in this Government's coalition policy agreement. In its policy agreement the Government has stated its intention of increased participation in consultations within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, where far-reaching decisions are expected.
Furthermore, it is clear that we have to define our position more clearly regarding various aspects of European security and to re-evaluate some of the main aspects of the policy framework. Iceland is a small state but it wants to play a responsible role in the international community since such participation is an important way of ensuring our livelihood as well as our security. We must therefore make the most of our membership in international organizations, but we must do so responsibly and with self-respect in order to maintain our dignity.
Bilateral defence cooperation
Forty-four years have now passed since the Defense Agreement between Iceland and the United States was concluded following the original membership of these states in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Defense Agreement has proved its worth. Through it and our cooperation within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, we have succeeded in both securing our interests and preserving common security and defence in the North Atlantic. Our membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has strengthened our status amongst our allies in consultations on the trend of world affairs.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union the world changed overnight and current attitudes towards defence reflect this fact. The same holds for our allies in both the East and the West. In the United States, emphasis has been laid on reducing defence expenditure and accordingly there have been reductions in U.S. forces in Europe and bases have been closed down. The reorganization of the U.S. fleet is currently taking place with the objective of reducing its expenses by 40\% from the time of the Cold War. The tight monetary policy adhered to in regard to defence requires that a similar level of defence be maintained, but at a lower cost. The reductions made in recent years in the activities of the defence forces here in this country are part of this policy. Defence cooperation between Iceland and the United States is, however, based on the fundamental principle that the United States will not unilaterally decide on Iceland's defence needs, which are to be the subject of joint consultations.
As is common knowledge, Iceland and the U.S.A. agreed on a minute at the beginning of 1994 on the adaptation of defence cooperation to recent developments in world affairs. This agreement is based on the solid foundation of the Defense Agreement of 1951 and it reaffirms our explicit willingness to continue cooperation. The minute ensures that active air defence will be retained in this country, with the deployment of at least four F-15 fighter aircraft in Iceland, and defence cooperation will be strengthened, (it inter alia) by continuing the biennial "Northern Viking" series of military exercises in this country.
After the reduction in the armed forces in Europe that I referred to before, the importance of this kind of exercise has increased significantly due to the fact that the defence capacity is increasingly based on forces that are expected to be called out during times of conflict. The Icelandic Government has invited Norwegian forces to participate in the exercise in order to increase the joint defences of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is very important to confirm a long-term agreement to secure stability in the activities of the Keflavík base and eliminate uncertainty concerning future plans in the North Atlantic. As I have already mentioned, it is impossible to foresee how the present power struggle in Russian politics will end. How the reforms that have now taken place will fare is by no means clear at this stage; reformists are in a somewhat difficult position and other more radical elements have become more prominent. The defence of Iceland must take note of this uncertainty.
Despite the collapse of the Iron Curtain, and the resulting reduction in armaments by the former alliances in the East and the West, we must not forget the fact that there still exist enormous arsenals in both wealthier and poorer nations. Disarmament will therefore continue to be an important issue in world affairs. By participating in this debate, Iceland can contribute to the strengthening of peace and humanism.
At present the most important agreements as regards participation in international disarmament are: The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1968, which more than 170 nations are party to, and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) which was signed in Paris two and a half years ago by representatives of 150 nations.
A very important milestone was reached recently when Member States of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, one of the most important disarmament agreements concluded after World War II, decided to extend it indefinitely. This achievement will hopefully clear the way for a comprehensive nuclear test-ban and a prohibition against the production of nuclear reactive chemicals, both of which are currently under discussion. The Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, of which Iceland is a signatory, provides for a prohibition of development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and on destruction of such weapons, which still exist in the Member States. In the near future, approval of the Icelandic Parliament be sought for the ratification of the convention.
Important work is also being carried out in Vienna in the field of security and disarmament, based mainly on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) of 1990. It is important that the Member States ensure the observation of the Treaty in its entirety. The implementation of the multilateral agreement on confidence- and security-building measures in military affairs, which has been reached during the last decades within the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, CSCE, now OSCE, is similarly under close observation in Vienna.
The United Nations
Participation in the work of the United Nations has been of great importance ever since Iceland took foreign affairs into its own hands. It is worth recalling that the modern Icelandic republic is almost the same age as the United Nations, which will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in San Francisco next month.
The decision to apply for a membership of the United Nations was one of the first steps taken by the new republic. Through it, we established our position internationally as an independent, sovereign state, turned away from the policy of neutrality and paved the way for our participation in the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. This last decision was based on a provision in the United Nations Charter on the right to self-defence.
Half a century later, our membership in this largest organization in the world, numbering one hundred and eighty five Member States, is still one of the most important symbols of Iceland's position in the international community. Our membership enables us to contribute to peace and stability in the world through diversified international cooperation in the fields of security, democracy, human rights, economics, environmental protection and disarmament. Last but not least, attention must be drawn to the immense economic significance the membership has for Iceland, as regards fisheries and the Law of the Sea, for within the United Nations we have succeeded in securing totalcontrol over our economic zone.
The end of the Cold War has completely changed the working environment of the United Nations in the last six years and brought new and hitherto unknown opportunities to the organization. To give an example, the Security Council is operational again and the United Nations has to an increasing extent been able to honour its obligation to monitor peace and security in the world. This new role is reflected, in particular, in the greatly increased efforts devoted to peace-keeping; thus two-thirds of the total expenditure of the organization now go to this sector and the provision of humanitarian relief is also increasing.
The concept of security has now taken on a wider and more diverse meaning. The attitude that peace and stability can only be permanently ensured by preventing conflicts instead of dealing with them after they arise is gaining support.
This change of emphasis demands a new and extensive UN agenda where priority is given to measures aimed at solving the severe problems of numerous Member States, especially in the poorer parts of the world. We must therefore welcome the fact that the adaptation of the organization to altered circumstances is already well under way. The policy-making conferences of the world's authorities on issues concerning children, the environment, human rights, the population problem and social development, which are to be continued (it inter alia) at the important Beijing conference on the status of women later this year, show that the United Nations has reacted in a purposeful manner. Thus, the security of people is now on the United Nations agenda no less than the security of states.
It is therefore clear that radical changes are taking place in our international environment concurrent with the celebrations of the United Nations' fiftieth anniversary.
It is important that we, the Icelandic nation, adapt as far as possible to the changes in the international environment which have taken place in recent years and shoulder our part of the responsibility accordingly.
To this end, support is being enlisted for Iceland's membership of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1997 - 1999, as representation in the Council enables Iceland (it inter alia) to be elected to the various sub-organizations of the Council.
We must investigate the best ways to increase cooperation between the Icelandic authorities and the United Nations agencies in the field of development, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) where Icelandic experts have worked for years. The opportunities offered by the organization to promote Icelandic expertise must be fully exploited, for example through contracting in the field of geothermal energy and the fishing industry as well as in general engineering services.
Iceland should, in cooperation with the other Nordic Countries, take an active part in United Nations peace-keeping operations, for example by providing the organization with doctors and nurses as far as is possible.
Finally, we can make a contribution by taking an increasing part in electoral supervision under the auspices of the United Nations where Iceland can pass on its democratic tradition.
I have briefly mentioned some of the main aspects of foreign affairs, but such a summary can never be exhaustive. Finally, I would like to emphasize how pleased I am to be given this opportunity to make my first general speech as Foreign Minister precisely in this forum, thereby stressing the continuity in Iceland's foreign policy which must, however, constantly be adapted to new circumstances, not the least in this era of radical changes which have already taken place or which are currently taking place in the international landscape.
In the midst of the turmoil in various parts of the world, both in the fields of security and international affairs, it is of paramount importance that stability prevail in Icelandic foreign affairs. We will build on the same foundation as before and I consider it very important that we continue our strong relations with the same allies we have successfully cooperated with for decades.
New foreign markets and growing foreign investment in Iceland will result in increased export and job opportunities and a stronger economy.
A sound economy, a just distribution of income and a strong democratic tradition are the cornerstones of an independent society. The Diplomatic Service can make a valuable contribution towards ensuring economic progress. This will be our main priority in the coming years.