US ambassador “wants gun and stab vest”

27.07.2020 - 16:22
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Backlash from a recent tweet from the American ambassador to Iceland, in which he called COVID-19 "the Invisible China Virus", was not the only controversy he has been courting recently, it emerged this weekend. Ambassador Jeffrey Ross Gunter reportedly fears for his safety, wants an armed guard, and wanted to apply for special permission to carry a personal firearm in Iceland.

He also reportedly refused to return to Reykjavík after a stay in his home state of California until the Secretary of State called and instructed him to return to his post.

Early this year, the American embassy placed a series of adverts in Icelandic newspapers calling for bodyguards. Unarmed Icelandic security guards have for years guarded the American embassy in downtown Reykjavík (usually from Securitas) and RÚV journalists asked the embassy at the time if it was simply therefore a change of job title. The answer was that it was not.  

According to investigation by RÚV's Kveikur programme, the main reason for advertising for bodyguards is that Ambassador Gunter believes his life is threatened in Iceland. Kveikur journalists have spoken to sources in Iceland and overseas who confirm this. The reason for his fear is apparently because he is Jewish—though details of any specific threat are unclear. Sources name Islamic terrorists as the feared threat to the ambassador. 

“It is the general policy of the US authorities not to discuss specific security arrangements connected to their embassies or their staff. All security arrangements outside the walls of the embassy are in accordance to the host country’s laws. Now, when the move into the new embassy building is underway, working practices are being adapted in accordance with State Department guidance. Bodyguards are in place at most US embassies around the world,” a written statement to Kveikur in response to a list of questions says. 

The CBS journalist working on the story received a similar response from the embassy. 

Icelandic law is quite specific that armed bodyguards would not be allowed outside the walls of the embassy without specific permission from the head of the State police. No such request has been received at this time, according to Kveikur sources. 

Kveikur sources within Iceland said there is no specific threat. There is no indication that terrorist agencies are working in Iceland or planning an attack, and no such attack has ever taken place before.  

According to CBS reporting, the ambassador wants to carry a gun himself, as well as to wear a stab-proof vest and be driven in a bulletproof car. CBS reports that Gunter has repeatedly been told there is no threat and that the bodyguard advertisements were mainly purchased to placate the ambassador. According to Kveikur, the roles had not been filled at the end of June, and the application deadline was in February. 

Gunter is a committed supporter of Donald Trump and helped finance his campaign. He is a so-called political appointment, and has little in the way of previous diplomatic experience. He is a dermatologist by profession. 

According to Kveikur sources, Gunter is convinced that many embassy staff are part of the “Deep State” (a shady organisation Trump regularly refers to) and that they do all they can to undermine him and the policies of his president back in Washington DC. Since arriving around a year ago, Gunter has insisted three successive Deputy Chiefs of Mission (his second-in-command) be removed from post. The first had been preparing for a year and had learnt Icelandic but was sent home immediately, because Gunter “didn’t like the look of him,” according to CBS. 

The embassy has had seven seconds-in-command in just over one year, including four temporary appointments. 

The instability was worsened in February when Gunter attended a conference of ambassadors in Washington DC, took a holiday back to California, and then refused to return to Reykjavík. As a result, the embassy was short-staffed and without an ambassador throughout the worst of the COVID-19 crisis, until Gunter came back in May, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally called and asked him to return to post. 

The State Department did not answer CBS’s question about whether Mike Pompeo still has confidence in his country’s ambassador to Iceland. “Since his nomination in May 2019, Gunter has created an increasingly "untenable" working environment at the Embassy in Reykjavik, according to current and former diplomats familiar with the situation,” the US broadcaster’s report claims. 

Since Carol Van Voorst left the post of US ambassador to Iceland in late April 2009, the embassy has been without an ambassador for a combined total of 62 months—which is more than five years. 

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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