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Name: Stefánsson, Guðmundur Árni
Current Position: Ambassador

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.

Born October 31, 1955, in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland’s third largest city (population: 26,099), Stefánsson completed his secondary education at Flensborgarskólinn, and earned a degree in political science at the University of Iceland in 1980. He has enjoyed a varied career ever since, including working as a police officer in Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavík from 1976 to 1979.
Mostly, however, Stefánsson worked as a journalist in both print and broadcast media, starting with his work as a radio producer at the Icelandic State Broadcasting Service from 1975 to 1986, and at a succession of jobs at the social democratic leaning daily newspaper Althýdubladid: journalist (1975 to 1976), deputy-editor (1981 to 1982), and editor (1982 to 1985). He was also a journalist at the weekly newspaper Helgarpósturinn from 1979 to 1981, and a media advisor from 1985 to 1986.
Stefánsson began his political career in the mid-1970s as a member of the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Party, where he served from 1976 until its merger into the Social Democratic Alliance in 1999, and as a member of the Youth Council of the Town of Hafnarfjördur from 1978 to 1982. Other early political involvement included service as a member of the Executive Committee of the Nordic Youth Association of Social Democrats from 1980 to 1986; on the board of Vernd (Society for the Assistance of Former Prisoners) from 1980 to 1990, including editing its newsletter between 1980 and 1986; on the board of Hafnarfjördur Savings Bank from 1982 to 1986; and as a member of the Hafnarfjördur Town Council from 1982 to 1994. Stefánsson’s local political career was capped off by his election as mayor of Hafnarfjördur, serving from 1986 to 1993.
Stefánsson’s national political career began with service from 1991 to 1993 as a substitute member for the Reykjanes Constituency of Iceland’s Alþingi (Althingi), the country’s Parliament, which first met in 930 and at 1,082 years old, is the world’s oldest extant legislative body. Stefánsson’s father, Stephen Gunnlaugsson, and two of his brothers, Finnur Torfi Stefánsson and Gunnlaugur Stefánsson, also served in the Alþingi. In 1993 Stefánsson was elected a full Member of the Alþingi, representing the Reykjanes Constituency from 1993 to 2003 and the Southwest Constituency from 2003 to 2005. He was a member of numerous parliamentary committees, including those on Economy and Trade (1994–1995); General Affairs (1994–1995); Foreign Affairs (1994–1995 & 2003–2005); Industry (1995–1996); Transport and Communications (1995–1999); Agriculture (1999–2001); and a Special Committee on Constitutional Affairs (1994–1995, 1999–2004). He also served as 4th vice-president of the Alþingi from 1995 to 1999, and as 1st vice-president from 1999 to 2005.
Stefánsson was awarded two ministerial portfolios, serving as minister of Health and Social Security (June 1993–June 1994) and minister of Social Affairs (1994). He was forced to resign these posts when an official report accused him of favoring friends and relatives, including awarding a research grant to a doctor who was no longer practicing medicine.
He transitioned easily into the world of party politics, serving as vice-chairman of the Icelandic Social Democratic Party from 1994 to 1996 and in 1999. He was also a member of the board of Landsvirkjun (National Power Company) from 1991 to 1993; and chairman of the board of the Icelandic Fire Authority from 1990 to 1993.
Stefánsson left the Alþingi in September 2005 to join the Foreign Ministry as a diplomat, motivated perhaps by his service as a member of the Icelandic delegation to the Nordic Council from 1995 to 1999, and as a member of the Icelandic Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly from 1997 to 2005, including service as chairman of the delegation in 2005. Soon thereafter, in November 2005, Stefánsson was appointed ambassador to Sweden, serving until September 2011, when he was named ambassador to the United States.
Stefánsson has been chairman of FH-Hafnarfjördur football club since 1999. He and his wife, Jóna Dóra Karlsdóttir, lost two children in a fire in 1985; they have four living children.
Viðtal við Guðmund Árna Stefánsson (Interview with Stefánsson about soccer) (by Árni Rúnar Karlsson)  
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