A new report (.pdf) from the US Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that former US ambassador to Iceland Jeffrey Ross Gunter fostered a “a threatening and intimidating environment” amongst his staff, and had damaged relations with Iceland to the point where “at one point during his tenure … the then-Undersecretary for Political Affairs instructed the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) to work directly with the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure proper management of the bilateral relationship.”
The report details the tasks that the new Chargé d’Affaires and the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) faced in the wake of Gunter’s tenure. Their duties “focused on rebuilding staff morale and normalizing embassy operations”, the OIG found, and apparently with good reason.
“Despite several months having elapsed since his departure, OIG found at the time of the inspection that embassy staff were still recovering from what they described as a threatening and intimidating environment created by the former Ambassador,” the report reads in part. “For example, staff reported to OIG multiple instances in which the former Ambassador had threatened to sue Department officials and embassy staff who expressed disagreement with him, questioned his wishes, or were perceived to be ‘disloyal’ to him. In addition, many employees reported to OIG that the former Ambassador threatened reprisal against employees who communicated with Department officials in Washington while conducting their official duties.”
Gunter’s influence extended beyond the walls of the embassy as well. Despite only being in his position from June 2019 to January 2021, his behaviour had a marked effect on relations between the US and Iceland.
“At the time of the inspection, OIG found the embassy was focused on rebuilding its relationship with the Government of Iceland following a deterioration of that relationship under the former Ambassador, which became so strained at one point during his tenure that the then-Undersecretary for Political Affairs instructed the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) to work directly with the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure proper management of the bilateral relationship,” the report states. “This action attempted to mitigate the negative impact of the former Ambassador’s frequent failure to respect diplomatic protocol or to coordinate with the Icelandic Government on policy initiatives and press statements touching on sensitive defense-related subjects. For example, the former Ambassador’s post on the embassy’s Facebook page indicated that the United States was investing more than $170 million on various projects and programs in Iceland, as part of a long-term plan to strengthen U.S.-Icelandic cooperation.This and other uncoordinated statements by the former Ambassador generated public controversy in Iceland.”
Jeffrey Ross Gunter was not exactly a popular ambassador with the American community in Iceland. His calling the coronavirus “the Invisible China Virus” drew sharp criticism from Icelanders and Americans in Iceland alike, leading to calls for his dismissal.
Further reporting from CBS News disclosed that in July 2020, the ambassador also requested he be allowed to carry a gun, received “door-to-door armoured car service”, and had been posting ads in Icelandic newspapers for bodyguards.
Furthermore, current and former diplomats familiar with the situation told CBS News that he created an “untenable” work environment at the embassy, and left the embassy in the hands of a temporary Deputy Chief of Mission for months—from February to May 2020—while he remained in the US. CBS sources allege Gunter wanted to continue his job remotely from California, and did not return until he was “expressly ordered to do so by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo”.
The full OIG report can be read here.
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