Íslensk-bandarískir vísindadagar (enska)

US-Icelandic Science Days
28th September 1998

For nearly 60 years now, Iceland has enjoyed close contact with the United States. This began in 1941, when the governments of the United States, Britain and Iceland agreed that US forces would take over the defence of Iceland, replacing the British troops who occupied our country after the Nazis invaded Denmark and Norway.

While the Second World War was raging, Iceland found itself suddenly dragged into the modern world. For the first time we encountered modern technology, and we made it part of our lives in an incredibly short time. After the war ended, and Iceland had become a republic, we faced the task of forming our own foreign policy and consolidating our security and defence. This we did by becoming founder members of NATO in 1949, and followed this up with a bilateral defence agreement with the United States in 1951. This agreement is still in full force today and continues to play an important role for both nations, even though the cold war has ended.

It is scarcely possible to show another nation greater trust than by putting one ,s defences in its hands. Our experience of this close collaboration with the United States has been exceptionally good, and the same applies to our other dealings with our large and powerful neighbour to the west.

Here today, we are embarking on a new chapter in these dealings by holding US-Icelandic Science Days for the first time. By doing this we are opening our window to the west in international scientific co-operation.

Ever since Iceland joined the European Economic Area, we have been playing an active role in joint research activities with the participation of other EEA countries. It is safe to say that this participation has made Icelandic scientists more confident about international co-operation of this type. Therefore, it is not completely without experience that we are now setting out to increase our scientific contacts with the United States.

But the fact that we are taking this step now must not be misunderstood as meaning that our two countries have not worked together before this in the spheres of science and education. Recently, we paused to note that 40 years have passed since representatives of our countries signed The Fulbright Agreement, which has borne a great deal of fruit, and Iceland is now planning to spend as much as the United States on implementing this agreement in the year 2000.

Many Icelanders have spent time studying, training and carrying out research in the sciences in the United States. On the other hand, formal co-operation has been limited except in areas such as the geosciences and medicine.

Some particular priorities were listed in the report which the Icelandic Research Council sent me after the visit by some of its members to the United States a year ago.

American institutions studying with the ocean, the atmosphere and the earth ,s crust expressed a clear interest in increasing formal co-operation. It was pointed out that an understanding of the role of natural variations is important in order to understand the causes of environmental changes.

Last week we saw this interest manifested during the North Atlantic Climate and Environmental Impact Workshop here in Reykjavík. About 100 scientists from Europe and North America gathered at the workshop, which was sponsored by US, European and Icelandic institutions.

Another area of common interest is the upgrading of the mutual exchange of scientists. Through the Research Council, we intend to promote support for projects carried out in co-operation with American scientists in the same way as European Union projects are supported in their initial stages.

In the relatively new field of genetic research, a lot of interest has been expressed in using the unique facilities available for such research in our small and relatively isolated population. A great deal of discussion is now going on about the legal and ethical aspects of this project. Encouragement for the development of a company devoted to research in this field has come mainly from the United States and from Icelanders who have trained and worked there.

It is also clear that in the field of data technology, results can be achieved here in software development which could be more difficult to achieve in larger and more complex societies. For example, IBM has expressed special interest in working with Icelandic companies on the development of software which could then be developed in different versions for larger communities.

Finally, I should like to mention the unique joint project between Cornell University and the National Library of Iceland in putting part of Iceland ,s literary heritage on the Internet with strong financial support from the Mellon Foundation.

Clearly, then, we certainly work together in many fields of research and development already. By holding these Science Days here in Reykjavík, we are demonstrating our interest in further bilateral co-operation with the United States in science and technology. At the same time, we wish to give our American guests the opportunity to see for themselves that we are a well-educated, economically independent and modern nation with a lot to offer.

I warmly welcome our American guests. I hope your visit to Iceland will be both enjoyable and useful.