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Iceland Opens Its Media Center

October 8, 1986

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ With a brass band, salmon-laden tables and a call to the world’s press to try the local cod liver oil, Iceland on Wednesday proudly opened its summit press center.

Technicians, civil servants and a diplomat flown in from Washington worked frantically for a week to provide facilities for the estimated 2,500 journalists arriving in Iceland for the weekend talks between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

It was a remarkable achievement for a tiny nation of 240,000, accustomed to the obscurity of island life on the Arctic Circle and plunged with little advance notice into the center of international attention.

″This is a new experience for us and we hope you will bear with us,″ Helgi Agustsson, deputy chief of mission at the Icelandic Embassy in Washington, said in a statement opening the media center.

The center, in a Reykjavik high school commandeered by the government, opened a day before Reagan was to arrive in the capital.

The school’s 22-member brass band played marching tunes as Foreign Minister Matthias Mathiesen arrived to make the inaugural speech.

″Iceland is proud to play a role, however modest, in hosting a meeting to advance understanding,″ he told several hundred journalists crowded into the gymnasium.

Center organizers took the opportunity to show off some of Iceland’s attractions.

Tables were laden with Icelandic smoked salmon, and the Export Council of Iceland and another organization called Icelandic Food had exhibition stands.

The present Miss World, Icelander Holmfridur Karlsdottir, was on hand to give interviews, along with Miss Young Iceland.

Before rushing off to a briefing by the Soviet delegation on Kremlin foreign policies, journalists listened to a speech by Mathiesen filled with the usual well-worn references to ″the land of ice and fire″ and ″land of contrasts.″

Then Agustsson took the microphone to list the amenities laid on by his government.

A shuttle bus will operate between the international press center and the White House press center at a hotel, a seven-minute drive away. Museums will stay open longer hours, Icelandic Radio will operate an English-language service, and hostesses will be available to arrange interviews with local politicians.

Noting that the two superpowers had declared a news blackout during the summit, Agustsson said various diversions had been arranged, such as trips into the countryside and a lottery with a first prize of a two-week holiday in Iceland.

He made a point of suggesting that reporters try Icelandic cod liver oil. Flavoring methods meant the days of having to ram the stuff down the throats of protesting schoolkids were over, he insisted.

″You will feel better, get stronger and hopefully life longer,″ he said.

But all the charm and hard work were not enough to meet the media’s most urgent need: lines of communication. Iceland has only 215 overseas phone lines in normal times, and has managed to add fewer than 200 for the summit - far from enough to accommodate 2,500 journalists.

″This is our main worry,″ said Agustsson. Already it is becoming difficult to dial overseas numbers, and the bulk of the foreign media has yet to arrive. The White House press, however, has its own communications set up by U.S. technicians flown specially to Iceland.

Housing also is a problem, even though cruise liners have docked in Reykjavik for use as floating hotels and private citizens have rented out rooms to journalists.