Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Toasts of the President and President Asgeirsson of Iceland

July 18, 1967

President Asgeirsson, Mr. Vice President, Mr. Foreign Minister Jonsson, Mr. Ambassador Thorsteinsson, ladies and gentlemen:

Mr. President, I greet you as the latest, but far from the first, Icelander to visit these shores.

You came by air in a matter of hours. But over 900 years ago another band of brave Icelanders sailed west in longboats to discover a land they called "Vinland."

It has been alleged on very high political-rather than historical--authority that they traveled inland, settled, and voted. In fact, the distinguished Vice President, in one of his rare expansive moments, has been known to claim them as the founders of the Minnesota Democratic Party.

I haven't confirmed that from Ambassador Rolvaag, but he is here for consultation.

The land that they found was far different from the one you see today. Yet Iceland and America have a great deal in common. Both were built by pioneers, by men who journeyed into the unknown, across a forbidding sea or an uncharted wilderness. Both of our peoples came to find freedom. Both founded nations that today have a long and honored tradition of liberty and of justice.

America has the world's oldest written constitution; Iceland has the world's oldest parliament. It occurs to me, Mr. President, that experience with parliaments might help me solve some of the problems that I have today.

It is symbolic of our common history that only last week 24 of our finest young men, our brave American astronauts--the real pioneers of our day--returned from a training mission to your country. The cordial reception they received from your people reminded me of my own visit to Iceland in 1963.

I have never forgotten that visit. I learned how much Iceland can teach the world about the fruitful life of people who live in freedom:

--Iceland has the highest literacy rate in the world.

--Iceland has eliminated extreme poverty.

--Iceland has a free democratic government in which all of her citizens take part.

Iceland is known as the land of ice and fire. I saw your great snow fields and glaciers, your volcanoes, and your warm springs. But ice and fire refer not only to these. There is ice in the cold determination of your people to preserve and protect the democratic institutions that we all cherish so much. And there is fire--and a great deal of fire--always in your support of peace and freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen, Iceland and America are alike in their origins--and alike in their objectives. I should like for all of you to now join me in a toast to the President of an old country and a firm friend.

Note: The President proposed the toast at 2:28 p.m. at a luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Asgeir Asgeirsson, President of Iceland, Hubert H. Humphrey, Vice President of the United States, Emil Jonsson, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iceland, and Petur Thorsteinsson, Icelandic Ambassador to the United States. Later he referred to Karl F. Rolvaag, U.S. Ambassador to Iceland. As printed this item follows the text released by the White House Press Office.

President Asgeirsson responded as follows:

Mr. President and Mrs. Johnson, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

I thank President Johnson for the kind words that he has spoken about my country and my people. It is with gratitude that I have accepted the invitation to meet the President and his wife here at the White House. I recall with pleasure the visit that you as Vice President and Mrs. Johnson paid to Iceland a few years ago. Such visits and personal contacts are most valuable for promoting friendship and understanding between nations.

Our country is the nearest European neighbor to America. Thus it was not only by chance that an Icelander became the first white man to set foot on American shores, as you mentioned, and that an Icelandic family made the first attempt to settle here in the New World.
These historical facts are commemorated by the statutes of Leif Eriksson in Reykjavik and Newport News--that statue in Rcykjavik is a gift of the United States Congress on the Icelandic Parliament's 1,000 years anniversary--and the statues of Thorfinnur Karlsefnl, who tried to settle here in this country, are in Philadelphia and also in Reykjavik.

A thousand years ago the Nordic population was too small to sustain the beachheads they had established on the American shores. But as you mentioned, nearly 900 years later, and since, many Icelanders have established themselves in this country. The Icelandic immigrants and their descendants have helped to further friendship and good relations between our nations.

The Second World War brought our two nations much closer together than ever before and close, friendly relations have been maintained since. Our small nation was isolated for centuries in the middle of the Atlantic, out of sight and touch with other lands, somewhat like the people of the Midwest, who did not see the oceans. Like the Midwesterners, we tended to believe in the security of isolation.

But times and conditions have changed. Isolation, language, and literature protected the Icelandic nationality for centuries. Now isolation is a thing of the past in Iceland as in most other countries. The revolution in transportation and communications has made all countries neighbors. No country can be isolated and self-sufficient in times of crisis. Friendly relations and security arrangements are necessary under present conditions. The lesson of the Second World War should certainly not be forgotten. Short memory is a serious fault.

We had certainly wished that the United Nations could have been sufficiently strong to protect world peace. Although the United Nations has proven to be a valuable international forum with substantial accomplishments to its account, it has been handicapped by the lack of a strong executive power.

Such was the system of government during the first 300 years of Icelandic history, which also led to the downfall of the old republic. The disunity and lack of power of the United Nations has necessitated the formation of such defense agreements as the NATO, in which we both are partners.

Our cooperation in defense matters is good and close. We are fortunate to have only good neighbors in the North Atlantic. I like to recall the lend-lease agreement which we made in 1941, subsequent to our first defense agreement with the United States. We, who negotiated that agreement, had often daily meetings in the State Department and remember seeing in the corridors the pre-Pearl Harbor Japanese negotiators. While in Halifax on our way back home, we heard the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. That was a moment none of us will forget.

I recall also with gratitude the Marshall Plan which provided Iceland, together with other European countries, with much needed economic aid. The Marshall Plan was impressive and unique and achieved its goal of European recovery. We, like so many other countries, have a good reason to recall what the United States has done for the defense of national independence and democracy and for economic development all over the world.

This has been possible only because the vigor and wealth of the United States has been matched by the intelligence and imagination of its political leaders. We follow with admiration your ceaseless efforts, Mr. President, in providing better and fairer living for all your citizens in the true liberal traditions of your country.

It is vital for a small country to have good neighbors. Historical and natural rights are not always sufficient. We live in the middle of the North Atlantic, on both sides of which are the oldest and soundest democracies. We are closest to these countries geographically, historically, and culturally. In our times, the North Atlantic is the Mediterranean of the free world.

Mr. President, I want again to extend to you, and your charming wife, my deepest thanks for your hospitality. Your invitation is a great honor to me and the Icelandic people.

Allow me to propose a toast to the President of the United States.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Toasts of the President and President Asgeirsson of Iceland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives