Arctic Congress: Norway's Arctic Council Chairship Praised by Iceland

SAO Island
  Iceland's senior Arctic official, Pétur Ásgeirsson, has worked for the Icelandic government for almost 30 years. The diplomat gave the Arctic Congress farewell speech in Bodø, northern Norway, on Saturday, and paid tribute to his colleague, leader of senior Arctic officials, Morten Høglund from Norway. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

Bodø (High North News): “It was up to Norway to take on the huge challenge and responsibility of chairing the Arctic Council after Russia,” Iceland's Arctic ambassador, Pétur Ásgeirsson, said, praising Norway's navigation through the muddy waters of Russia's war in Ukraine while chairing the Arctic Council.

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"What on earth were they thinking?" said Iceland's Arctic ambassador, Pétur Ásgeirsson, giving the congress farewell speech at the end of the Arctic Congress in Bodø, northern Norway on Saturday.

The ambassador – and Iceland’s Senior Arctic Official in the Arctic Council – referred to the Norwegian migration to Iceland some 1,200 years ago.

The work, future, and very existence of the Arctic Council ran like a common thread through the congress, organized by The High North Center for Business and Governance, the International Arctic Social Sciences Association (IASSA), and the University of the Arctic (UArctic).

Muddy waters

Needless to say, Pétur Ásgeirsson enjoyed his stay in the Norwegian Arctic together with his colleagues from the USA - Senior Arctic Official Eric Carlson - and Norway - Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials Morten Høglund.

The experienced Arctic politician expressed his admiration for Norway's navigation through the muddy waters of Russia's war in Ukraine while chairing the Arctic Council.

Norway’s chairship team has in a very capable way achieved this goal.
Petur Ásgeirsson, SAO Iceland

“It was up to Norway to take on the huge challenge and responsibility of chairing the Arctic Council after Russia,” the Ambassador reminds us.

Keeping it alive

The period from Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 until Norway took over the leadership of the Council in May 2023 was characterized by a standstill in the Council and great anticipation regarding the transfer of the chair from a country at war.

A few weeks after the invasion, seven members of the Arctic Council, then chaired by Russia, issued a joint statement halting all work within the organization.

The way the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then led by Anniken Huitfeldt (Labor), handled the shift was called a "diplomatic piece of art" by experts.

Diplomatic skills

“The task was to maintain a constant message of condemnation of Russia’s behavior while at the same time keeping the Arctic Council operational and capable of organizing research in the Arctic,” Ásgeirsson carefully explained and added;

Morten Høglund.
Morten Høglund, Chair of the SAOs in the Arctic Council at the Arctic Congress in Bodø, northern Norway. "The Arctic Congress decided early on to keep the congress's topics according to the priorities of the Norwegian chairship of the Arctic Council. It has been an inspiration to exchange ideas with you. Unfortunately not with all of you, but we know where to find you", said Høglund from the stage towards the end of the congress. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)  

“Norway’s chairship team has, in a very capable way, achieved this goal.”

The Icelandic diplomat then turned to his Norwegian colleague and the chair of the Arctic Council, Morten Høglund - who was sitting in the audience - with a personal message.

"I have watched Morten Høglund constantly juggling several tasks at the same time. I must admit that I do not envy Morten for this role. But I do envy him for his diplomatic skills."

“I repeat what everyone seems to agree on: Norway is doing an exceptional job of leading the Arctic Council under these difficult circumstances.”

Support Ukraine

Although the council has resumed work under the Norwegian chairship, Iceland's position remains to avoid all political contact.

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“Iceland’s position is that despite the situation, it is important to maintain the Arctic Council as a platform for Arctic research and governance, based on the founding document, the Ottawa Declaration.

“We have agreed to start limited cooperation with Russia on science and research and restart virtual meetings. It is important, among other things, because it opens more meaningful cooperation with indigenous associations and observers of the council.”

"But under the circumstances, Iceland is not willing to consider re-engaging with Russia at a political level. We fully support Ukraine's fight to drive Russia out of their territories."

The Arctic ambassador to Iceland concluded by saluting what was once the common language of Norway and Iceland, saying that the Norwegians in the room would understand;

«Takk kæru vinir og frændur fyrir góðan fund. Takk fyrir mig» (Thank you, dear friends and cousins, for a good meeting. Thank you for having me).

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