Morgunblaðið’s recent article about the trade ban against Russia prompted the US Ambassador to Iceland to issue a response. This response was not published, prompting the Ambassador to post it on the Embassy’s Facebook page – which was then reported on by Morgunblaðið.
In an article printed by Morgunblaðið on January 4, Jens Garðar Helgason of the Association of Companies in the Fishing Industry (SFS) is interviewed, wherein he harshly criticised Iceland’s participation in the trade ban against Russia. This ban was prompted by Russian incursions into Ukraine, and the EU and the United States are amongst the participants.
The Icelandic fishing industry, which exported 10% of its haul to Russia in 2013, has complained that the ban has hurt their business. This criticism is repeated in the Morgunblaðið article, along with some particular contentions about US involvement that the Embassy says are not true.
The Morgunblaðið article prompted US Ambassador to Iceland Robert Cushman Barber to pen an op-ed (the English version of which you can read below), clarifying the US position and correcting Morgunblaðið’s facts on the matter. However, Morgunblaðið opted not to print the op-ed, even though it is generally standard practice for media outlets in Iceland to print corrections and op-eds from people who have been reported on – least of all from the US Ambassador.
The snub led to the Ambassador to post the op-ed on the US Embassy in Reykjavík Facebook page today. Morgunblaðið, in response, did not print the op-ed on its own, opting instead to write an article about the Facebook post this afternoon.
Morgunblaðið has a vested interest in the Icelandic fishing industry. As Stundin reported, fishing industry companies and related parties own about 96% of shares in the paper.
Grapevine contacted Embassy Spokesperson Brian P. Beckmann and asked if the non-publication would change the US Embassy’s policy on sending material to Morgunblaðið in the future.
“The U.S. Embassy has no reason to discriminate against any Icelandic media outlet,” he said. “We have had a great working relationship with Morgunblaðið in the past and look forward to the relationship continuing into the future.”
Below, you can read the English version of the US Ambassador’s piece, in full:
Robert Cushman Barber
Ambassador of the United States of America
I am writing in response to comments that appeared in a January 4, 2016 article in Morgunblaðið regarding U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine.
The United States believes strongly in the need to maintain sanctions against Russia until it fully meets its obligations under the Minsk Agreement. These sanctions were put in place to address a serious violation of international norms and national sovereignty in a constructive and thoughtful way without resort to force. We all rely upon, and must protect, an international system that demands respect for national sovereignty. Without this principle, we are all at risk. For this reason, it is important for all nations that believe in rule of law to stand in solidarity.
In terms of the specific allegations in the article that the United States sought exemptions for Russian-supplied helicopter parts, I would note that in November 2015 we allowed for delivery of spare parts needed by the Afghan military for its Mi-17 helicopters. These items were covered under nonproliferation sanctions imposed under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, not those sanctions related to Ukraine, and this action was for the limited, specific purpose of helping the security forces of Afghanistan combat terrorism.
The United States, like Iceland and other nations, has experienced the impact of the Ukraine-related sanctions and Russian retaliatory measures. We recognize there is a cost. Between 2014 and 2015, for example, U.S. exports to Russia declined significantly due to sanctions, with the agricultural sector being particularly hard hit.
We understand that such measures have had an effect on the Icelandic fishing industry and recognize the potential for a disproportionate impact on certain rural communities. However, we believe that it is important that as NATO Allies we continue to uphold the essential principles at stake if we are to deter aggression and efforts to change borders by force of arms.