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Foreign Minister Firm on Russia Sanctions

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Foreign Minister Firm on Russia Sanctions

fishermen at work

Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Icelandic Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson is determined not to withdraw his support for Western sanctions against Russia, despite losses suffered by the fishing industry after Russia imposed an import ban on food from Iceland in August.

Iceland’s interests weigh heavier, he told RÚV this morning, than the interests of individual companies in the fishing industry. Iceland is among 40 Western nations participating in the sanctions, which were imposed in response to Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine.

Fishing industry officials have been very vocal in their criticism of Gunnar Bragi lately, maintaining that the industry stands to lose up to ISK 12 billion (USD 91.8 million, EUR 84.6 million) because of the import ban.

Gunnar Bragi had this to say: “People can do what they please concerning me, but I won’t change my mind in this matter, because it’s wrong to stop supporting these sanctions for the billions at stake,” referring to the fishing industry’s losses. He explained that the loss turned out to be much smaller than originally thought, when it was estimated at ISK 37 billion (USD 283 million, EUR 261 million).

He acknowledged the fishing industry’s loss mattered, “let’s not underestimate that, but there are other interests that matter much more. For the fishing industry, few things matter more than international agreements and international law, when it comes to protecting our fishing territory, rationalize why we have the right to fish mackerel when it swims into our territory, and so on. So I encourage those effective and good members of the fishing industry to relax and really put Iceland’s interests above their own.”

There has been disagreement within the governing parties regarding the issue. However, Gunnar Bragi stresses that supporting the sanctions was agreed upon in the government. “I don’t think there is disagreement about participating in this [the sanctions], I haven’t heard that, nor has it been suggested that we withdraw [our support]. Of course people discuss whether this is the correct measure, whether we ought to participate in sanctions as a rule. Without hesitation, I say that this is a tool which ought to be used in international relations to try to bring about law and order and get people to respect international agreements.” In Gunnar Bragi’s mind, it is simply a way to prevent wars.

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