REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday he hoped Great Britain and the European Union would reach a deal for an orderly UK exit from the bloc, commenting on the issue that has convulsed British politics for months and reached a crescendo this week.
Pence, who is due to meet UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, told reporters during a visit to Iceland that the United States stands with the UK in its decision to leave the EU.
“(We) hope to see the European Union and the United Kingdom come together around that negotiating table that prime minister Johnson spoke of just a few days ago and reach an agreement that will meet the needs and the aspirations of the people of the United Kingdom and also provide for an orderly Brexit,” Pence said.
He made his comments shortly before UK lawmakers approved a bill on Wednesday that would force Johnson’s government to request a three-month Brexit delay rather than leave on Oct. 31 without a divorce agreement, after wrestling control of the parliamentary agenda from Johnson.
The British premier argues that he needs the threat of leaving without a deal to press the EU to make key concessions on the divorce deal. U.S. President Donald Trump, a Brexit enthusiast, has praised Johnson as “exactly what the U.K. has been looking for”.
During his visit to Iceland, Pence praised the north Atlantic NATO ally for rejecting China’s Belt and Road Initiative. He also urged the country to reject the technology of China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, the world’s largest telecoms equipment provider, and press other allies to follow suit.
The United States accuses Huawei of providing a back door for Chinese intelligence agencies, which the company denies.
“Huawei is essentially a Chinese company that under Chinese law is required to turn over all the data it collects to the government and the communist party. The reality is we don’t believe that is consistent with the security of a free nation,” Pence said.
The vice president also reiterated the U.S. stance that Russia and China are increasingly active across the Arctic region, and praised Reykjavik for its security cooperation.
“We commend Iceland’s coast guard and we are grateful for the security cooperation and presence of U.S. forces in and out of Iceland,” Pence said after meeting Icelandic President Gudni Johannesson in Reykjavik.
Amid growing divisions in the polar region over melting ice and access to minerals, the United States has expressed concerns that Russia is behaving aggressively in the Arctic and said China’s actions there have to be watched closely as well.
Johannesson, who met Pence at Hofdi House, scene of a historic 1986 summit between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, said all nations should try to avoid a scramble for the region.
A series of rainbow flags fluttered near the house, reportedly in a protest against the visit of Pence, an evangelical Christian who has opposed gay rights.
The mayor of Reykjavik, Dagur Eggertsson also invited Pence to negotiate a new nuclear disarmament pact at the historic house, after Trump pulled out of the INF treaty with Russia. The mayor said this broke the hearts of Icelanders.
On Wednesday, Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson met with Pence and reiterated the need for closer ties, following trade talks between the two countries when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited in February.
Iceland’s location in the north Atlantic Ocean between Norway and Great Britain on one side and Greenland on the other side makes it geopolitically important amid increased interest in the Arctic, which has big reserves of oil, gas, gold, diamonds, zinc and iron.
With polar ice melting because of global warming, the Arctic may offer world powers new shipping routes - and naval interests - for trade between Asia, Europe and America’s east coast.
Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said she planned to discuss global warming and gender equality with Pence in addition to security issues to cap his visit to the island.
Reporting by Alexandra Alper in Reykjavik; Writing by Stine Jacobsen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Catherine Evans, Hugh Lawson and Frances Kerry