Originally settled by the Norse people, Iceland formed the Althingi, a ruling assembly that comprised the oldest parliament in the world. Iceland became an independent country in 1262, when the country entered into a treaty with the Norwegian monarchy. Subsequently, Iceland was controlled by Denmark, which created a limiting trade relationship that negatively affected Iceland’s economy. The ACT of Union, passed in 1918, made Iceland independent again, and after being occupied by the German army during WWII, the United States assumed responsibility for Iceland’s defense. The country has had several conflicts with Great Britain about fishing limits, but in recent years has taken steps to join a more open international community of traders and political allies.
Lay of the Land: Iceland occupies an area of 103,000 sq. km. (approximately 39,600 square miles), which is about the size of the state of Virginia, or slightly larger than Ireland. The capital is Reykjavik, and its highest elevation is Hvannadalshnjúkur at Vatnajökull Glacier, at 2,110 meters (6,923 ft.).
People of Norse origin settled Iceland in the late 9th and early 10th centuries. In 930 AD, ruling chiefs established a constitution for the country, which was ruled by an assembly called the Althingi (Alþingi). This comprised the oldest parliament in the world.
In July 1941, the United States assumed responsibility for Iceland’s defense during World War II. Following the war, the US and Iceland agreed to terminate US defense interests in Iceland. However, the United States retained certain rights at Keflavík to operate an air force base.
In March 2006 the US announced it would continue to provide for Iceland’s defense but without permanently basing forces in the country. Naval Air Station Keflavik closed in September 2006 after 55 years. The government of Iceland expressed disappointment, and even opposition politicians opposed to the US military presence criticized the manner of the closing, but bilateral discussions led to new ways of ensuring the country’s security, with an emphasis on a “visible defense.”
US imports from Iceland are dominated by fish and shellfish, totaling $85 million in 2009. Imports on the rise from 2005 to 2009 included miscellaneous chemicals (photo chems,print inks, and paint) up from $17,000 to $6.0 million. Clocks, typewriters and other household goods, increased from $29.3 million to $32.1 million. Soft beverages and processed coffee imports rose from$1.9 million to $6.1 million.
Iceland Bank Files Lawsuit in New York Court
According to the State Department, the Icelandic government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. Some human rights problems were reported, including: violence against women, societal discrimination against minorities and foreigners, and isolated reports of women trafficked to, through, and possibly from the country.
The North Atlantic island-nation of Iceland, which is the only NATO country with no standing army, has sent Guðmundur Árni Stefánsson to be its ambassador to the United States. Stefánsson is a longtime Social Democratic politician who became a diplomat only seven years ago. He took over as ambassador October 1, 2011, and presented his credentials to President Barack Obama at the White House on January 18, 2012.
Sam Watson of assumed the duties of Charge d'Affaires ad interim of the US Embassy in Iceland on August 13, 2009.