There is some disagreement amongst Iceland’s government ministers on the country’s position on the trade ban with Russia.
Vísir reports that, in an extensive interview with DV, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said that the experience in office that has been most difficult for him has been the current trade ban between Iceland and Russia. Iceland took part in the trade ban, with the EU, in response to Russian incursions in Ukraine. In turn, Russia set up a ban of their own of Icelandic products.
However difficult the experience has been, Gunnar Bragi said that his mind has not changed – the trade ban will remain in effect. This response has not been met positively by other members of the government. Both Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson, who lead the ruling coalition, told reporters that they would not make any blanket statements about continuing the ban, but would rather reassess the country’s position.
As 10% of Iceland’s fishing exports last year were bought by Russia, numerous heads of large fishing companies have levied criticism at Gunnar Bragi. For example, Gunnþór Ingvason, the director of the herring company Síldarvinnslun, told reporters Iceland should be neutral when it comes to foreign policy, and that Gunnar Bragi ought to consider the interests of Icelandic companies.
Gunnar Bragi responded that it was “dishonourable how some of these men talk”, saying that heads of Icelandic fishing companies were “thinking first and foremost about their profits”. He called upon these companies, who are trusted with natural resources, to “show a sense of social responsibility”. He added that it would be a good idea to consider “whether or not these are the best men to be handling our resources”.
Gunnar Bragi was also asked what his response was to a recent Reykjavíkurbréf column that appeared in Morgunblaðið, and is presumed to have been penned by Davíð Oddsson – former Prime Minister of Iceland and current Morgunblaðið co-editor. In the column, the author implies that Gunnar Bragi does not understand what the role of a foreign minister is in Icelandic society, and did not carefully consider the consequences of taking part in the sanctions against Russia.
To this, Gunnar Bragi responded directly to Davíð Oddsson, saying, “Look in the mirror and think a little about how things were handled when Iraq was invaded,” referring to the fact that Davíð was Prime Minister when Iceland joined the “Coalition of the Willing”. The decision was a controversial one at the time, as it had never been put up for a parliamentary vote.
Chiefs of the fishing industry are still unhappy with the trade ban. When a reassessment of Iceland’s position will take place has not yet been announced.