My team and I at the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, had the privilege to welcome Secretary Kerry to Sweden on May 14th and 15th. The Secretary visited Stockholm and Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city. It was the first time a Secretary of State traveled to two Swedish cities in one visit and the second time we welcomed a Secretary of State to Sweden during the past year (Secretary Clinton was here last June).
Welcoming the Secretary to Sweden and the Arctic
My wife Natalia and I joined Foreign Minister Carl Bildt at the airport to welcome Secretary Kerry to Sweden early on Tuesday morning, a full hour ahead of schedule. We had a light drizzle, but it was far better weather than the cold rain and wind storm that greeted Secretary Clinton nearly a year before.
From wheels down in Stockholm to wheels up in Kiruna, the Secretary had a packed schedule. His day in Stockholm started with a meeting with Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. At the beginning of the meeting, Foreign Minister Bildt showed the Secretary the extensive collection of maps in his office, against the backdrop of clicking cameras. After the press left the room, the two discussed the Arctic Council, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and other issues of global importance.
Following their meeting, Minister Bildt walked with the Secretary and me, along with the rest of our delegation, to the Prime Minister’s office at Rosenbad. The Secretary met with Prime Minister Reinfeldt to continue the conversation on key bilateral issues and discuss our governments’ shared commitment to see a successful conclusion to a U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty. During the press conference that followed, the Secretary spoke at length about the U.S. commitment to work with Sweden and partners around the world to address climate change.
After about six hours in Stockholm, Secretary Kerry departed Stockholm, bound for Kiruna, a city often associated with reindeer, snow-covered mountains, northern lights and dog-sledding, located 90 miles (145 kilometers) north of the Arctic Circle.
The main purpose of the visit was to participate in the final Arctic Council meeting of the Swedish chairmanship which gathered ministers and principals from eight countries, including hosts Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Environment Minister Lena Ek of Sweden, and indigenous peoples from the Arctic region. 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.
As a testimony to the success of the Swedish leadership of the Arctic Council, a legally binding agreement was signed by the ministers on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response. The agreement seeks to mitigate the risk of oil pollution in the Arctic including by facilitating the organization of a concerted response in the event of an accident.
Secretary Kerry also participated in a meeting with U.S. indigenous leaders hosted by Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senator from Alaska. This offered an opportunity to delve into how Native American cultures and traditions are enriching the Arctic and contributing to the prosperity of the Region but also to shed light on some of the challenges that they are facing. Approximately 4 million people inhabit the Arctic and nearly 500,000 of these represent indigenous groups.
The stay in Kiruna concluded with a visit to the LKAB iron ore mine, the largest of its kind in Europe. The town 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.
After a day and half in Sweden, the Secretary departed Kiruna on Wednesday afternoon. It was truly an amazing visit and proof of the close ties between our two countries -- a relationship that I think has never been stronger.