This week, US Embassy Stockholm was honored to support a remarkable and highly productive visit to Sweden by Secretary of State John Kerry, his first visit as Secretary. Two goals were paramount for the visit: (i) to meaningfully and constructively engage on the future of the Arctic through the Arctic Council, which Sweden chairs and of which the US is a member (ii) to engage Swedish government officials on the challenges we face together around the world.
Secretary Kerry landed in Stockholm early Tuesday morning and got underway immediately with consultations with the Swedish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. Whether it’s the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan or the nuclear issue in North Korea (where Sweden acts as the protective power of the US), these are not just American challenges but international challenges and we are pleased that Sweden is a key partner in trying to solve them. An enormous shared opportunity is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; we both look forward for negotiations over this agreement to get underway soon. Prime Minister Reinfeldt and Foreign Minister Bildt are incredibly gracious hosts, and the conversation reflected how genuinely close and results oriented our bilateral relationship is.
Secretary Kerry then went to the US Ambassadorial residence, where he bore witness to the US Embassy’s salute to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who chose not to be indifferent and saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. The US Embassy planted last year in front of the US Ambassadorial residence a horse chestnut tree (the same kind Anne Frank looked out over from her window in Amsterdam) in honor of Wallenberg.
Secretary Kerry then took a photo with our awesome US Marines, spending time to ask them about their service and where each came from.
Then the Secretary met with US Embassy staff members and families at the US Ambassadorial residence. It was truly a warm, genuine and inspiring event. Secretary Kerry immediately invited all the children on the stage with him, providing a poignant moment for the Secretary to reflect on life in the Foreign Service and speak of the great sacrifice, courage and patriotism of their parents. The Secretary took photos with all the kids, and went around the room and shook every hand. It was a wonderful and touching US embassy family moment.
After a casual lunch, in which we had the honor of being joined by US Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who had conducted an important wildlife program in the morning, we left for the High North of Sweden, to Kiruna for the Arctic Council.
The Arctic Council was launched in 1996 to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, in particular on issues pertaining to sustainability and environmental protection. The United States, together with Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Russia are members.
The first meeting I took part in was with the Secretary, Senator Murkowski and Alaskan Permanent Participants (including several Native American tribal leaders). The Secretary discussed the Obama Administration’s new National Strategy for the Arctic and then dove right in to discussions about social challenges and biodiversity depletion. It was an incredibly real and honest conversation about the challenges we face together in the Arctic, and what it is we can do together to solve them.
The following morning the Ministerial began, with Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt opening the conference and Minister of Environment Lena Ek reviewing the solid record of Sweden’s chairmanship. Then national statements were presented, and Secretary spoke on behalf of the United States in the most visionary and poignant way. Here are some key passages from the Secretary’s remarks:
· “It’s an honor to be here in Kiruna, and I begin by saying that there are many areas where the eight Arctic states’ interests overlap significantly. And despite our different sizes and our different cultures, and many of the varied interests that we’ve heard today from permanent participants, we share many values and priorities. But there is nothing that should unite us quite like our concern for both the promise and the challenges of the northern-most reaches of the earth.
· “Temperatures we know in the Arctic are increasing more than twice as fast as global averages, and they are endangering habitats and they are endangering ways of life. Last September, the extent of sea ice covering the Arctic reached a record low, threatening marine mammal life and the indigenous and local communities that depend on them.”
· “So we’re proud to join you today in the important work of protecting and preserving our shared Arctic, not just for the nations that touch it, but for the way that what happens here, for the stewardship that we have responsibility to execute, for the way that it touches every single person around the world and our way of life.”
The Ministerial was followed by lunch in the LKAB mine, the largest of its kind in Europe. Kiruna was founded in 1900 primarily around the extraction of iron. The mining industry remains so important to Kiruna that the town is currently in the midst of moving several large neighborhoods to a new location in order to enable further extraction. With the local economy booming and with low unemployment numbers, Kiruna is thriving.
Secretary Kerry then returned to Washington. He returned having advanced the US interest bilaterally and multilaterally and the Embassy was honored to have had him here. We live in an ever smaller world, where problems have local roots but global reach. By engaging with our superb partners the Swedes, Secretary Kerry got us that much closer to addressing the challenges of our times.
I will end by saying that to me Secretary Kerry is a particularly inspiring leader. He speaks from the heart; has incredible military service and public service to draw from; and he shares President Obama’s great strategic perspective and vision. It was a deep honor to support his visit to Sweden.