Greenland names first representative to Iceland

An experienced foreign policy hand will be asked to establish Nuuk’s fourth foreign outpost.

By Kevin McGwin - August 28, 2018
A crowd gathers in Nuuk to celebrate the opening of the Icelandic consulate on November 7, 2013 (Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Greenland’s foreign ministry on Monday named Jacob Isbosethsen, a long-time foreign policy advisor, to serve as the country’s first representative in Iceland.

Isbosethsen, according to a statement by Vivian Motzfeldt, the foreign minister, was selected for his “robust and wide-ranging” foreign policy experience.

The decision comes after lawmakers in Nuuk voted unanimously last year to open a representative office in Reykjavík. One of the final hurdles to making that a reality was passed last week when Naalakkersuisut, the elected government, proposed a 2019 budget that included 3 million kroner ($360,000) in funding each year for the next three years.

In addition to the initial responsibility of establishing the office, Isbosethsen will be charged with forging closer trade and economic relations between Greenland and Iceland.

[Neighborhood diplomacy: Nuuk eyes Reykjavik as site for its next ’embassy’]

Iceland has had a consulate in Nuuk since 2013, when the two countries began holding annual meetings to discuss topics such as fisheries, tourism and trade.

These meetings have led to agreements in specific areas, including healthcare, where an agreement makes it possible for Greenlandic residents to be cared for at an Icelandic hospital if treatment is unavailable in Greenland.

Likewise, the two countries have expanded their transport links in recent years, in part to allow Greenland to benefit from the rapid increase in the number of travelers visiting Iceland.

Under its Self-Rule agreement with Copenhagen, Nuuk is permitted to establish representative offices abroad that further its interests in decision-making areas that have been devolved to it.

[As Iceland celebrates its centennial, it offers lessons in independence for Greenland and the Faroe Islands]

In countries where Greenland does not have a representative office, Nuuk relies on Danish diplomats to look out for its interests. Although that set-up works, the current government is currently pursuing a policy of placing a Greenlandic representative on the ground in neighboring countries and other important trading partners.

Nuuk already has representatives in Copenhagen, Brussels and in Washington, D.C. (the latter is also accredited in Ottawa). Beijing was long expected to be the site of the next office, but the decision to set up shop in Reykjavík came last year in the wake of an incident involving the arrest of crewmembers of a Greenlandic fishing vessel in connection with the death of an Icelandic woman.

That, according to Vittus Qujaukitsoq, the foreign minister at the time, underscored the need for Nuuk to have representatives in neighboring countries.

“Neither the (Danish foreign ministry) nor the Danish embassy in Reykjavík were able to provide adequate assistance for Greenlandic residents, be it interpreting services or contacting the family members in Greenland of those involved,” he wrote in his proposal to establish the office.

[Alaska senator proposes US consulate in Greenland]

The Reykjavík office is expected to open in 2018 and will, according to the foreign ministry, contribute to Naalakkersuisut’s goal of building up Greenland’s relations abroad.

“If there’s someone we want to trade with, it’s easier for us to reach agreements if we have a representative in the country,” Motzfeldt told KNR, a broadcaster, in July in connection with an announcement that Greenland would seek to open its next representative office in China.

“Of course we can work through the Danish embassy, but Denmark’s interests are sometimes different from ours,” she said.