Remarks Following Discussions With Prime Minister Thorsteinn Palsson of Iceland


August 10, 1988


The President. I welcomed Prime Minister Thorsteinn Palsson to the White House with particular pleasure, for he's the first Icelandic Prime Minister to make an official working visit to the United States. The Prime Minister and I had a very good and friendly meeting this morning, and we continued our conversation over lunch.


Mr. Prime Minister, as you are well aware, ties between the United States and Iceland are deep and long-lived. In fact, they go back to the year 1000, when Leif Erikson, a son of Iceland, first came to these shores. I distinctly remember the statue of ``Leif the Lucky'' in front of Iceland's largest church atop Reykjavik's tallest hill.


It was a gift from the American people to Iceland in 1930 for the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the Icelandic Parliament. Your Parliament, the Althing, is the oldest in the world; and it existed long before most parliamentary systems ever got started. That statue now stands as a reminder of the traditionally close and cooperative ties between our two democratic nations. It also reminds us of how fortunate it is that Icelanders were and remain a brave and seafaring people.


On the occasion of the Prime Minister's visit to the White House today, I want again to express my personal thanks and the appreciation of the American people for the gracious hospitality shown by the Icelandic people and Government in hosting my meeting with General Secretary Gorbachev in October of 1986. Mr. Prime Minister, I have nothing but admiration for the efficiency and speed with which your entire nation successfully met an immense challenge on such short notice.


I was told while there that Icelanders are accustomed to responding to such things as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. But I'm sure, however, they had never previously witnessed the upheaval of a U.S.-Soviet summit, complete with more than 3,000 journalists. But you and your countrymen took it all in stride, and we're all left with an unforgettable impression of your warmth, generosity, and hospitality. In the wake of the Moscow summit, I must note that the talks that the General Secretary and I had in Hofdi House were an important milestone in the development of our current dialog with the Soviet Union, a dialog made possible by the firm determination and unity of the Western alliance of which your nation was a founding member.


NATO has more than stood the test of time, and Iceland was there at the beginning. NATO is an alliance of sovereign equals whose members have agreed to share both its benefits and responsibilities. But our bilateral and NATO relationship transcends security considerations and rests solidly on shared democratic values, history, trade, and a tradition upheld by your leadership, Mr. Prime Minister. It is that long and valued relationship I am proud to acknowledge today.


And welcome again to you, Prime Minister Palsson, and to your lovely wife. We wish you the very best for the remainder of your visit to Washington and for the future. Thank God, and bless you.


The Prime Minister. Mr. President, it is indeed both an honor and a distinct pleasure to have been your guest here at the White House today. My invitation here underscores the friendly relationship and close cooperation prevailing between the United States and Iceland. At our meeting today, we were able to review many issues in our bilateral relationship, as well as some of the larger issues on the international scene. Our bilateral relationship is excellent. It's based not only on our joint membership in the Atlantic alliance and a mutually beneficial defense agreement but also on historical ties and important cooperation in fields as diverse as trade, transportation, education, and scientific research.


We have, during this visit, been able to explore ways of further solidifying and strengthening our ties in some of these fields. But perhaps most importantly, our friendship is based on certain shared basic values, such as respect for freedom, human dignity, and the democratic process -- all of which are fundamental elements of open, pluralistic societies. These shared principles transcend differences in size or population.


For most of its 1,100 years of recorded history, my country was relatively isolated from the currents of world events. All that changed during the Second World War. The foundations for the security relationship between our two countries were laid during a crucial phase of the Battle of the Atlantic. We are hopeful that we may jointly, with our partners in the Western alliance, prevent such times from ever occurring again.


But clearly, a lot also depends on the arms control efforts of your government and that of the Soviet Union, as well as the international community in general. The people of my country were encouraged by the recently concluded INF treaty. And we are proud to have been able to contribute in a small way to the process leading up to that agreement by hosting the summit between yourself, Mr. President, and the Soviet leader in the fall of 1986. We hope that progress can also be made this year in the area of strategic arms and wish you and your negotiators success in those talks.


To conclude, allow me again to express my appreciation for your hospitality and the fine reception we have received here in Washington. Coming from Iceland, I can tell a warm day, Mr. President. But it's not the climate which will make this visit memorable but rather the human warmth we have encountered. Thank you, Mr. President.


Note: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. Earlier, the President and the Prime Minister met in the Oval Office and then attended a luncheon in the Residence.