Vice President Pence and his extensive security detail raised eyebrows on Wednesday as they traveled through the capital city of Iceland, a famously peaceful country where its president travels alone on private errands.
Pence was the first U.S. vice president to visit Iceland since George H.W. Bush went to Reykjavik in 1983, similarly causing a stir with his “attendant paraphernalia of Air Force Two, bulletproof limousines and White House telecommunication equipment,” The Washington Post reported at the time.
Weeks before Pence’s visit, Secret Service personnel were seen in the city scouting out locations, the Associated Press reported. Bomb-sniffing dogs were given special clearance to enter the country, and police officers from outside the capital were sent in to help the Reykjavik police meet security standards set by the United States. During the visit Wednesday, U.S. security personnel — who had to be given special permission to bear arms — trailed the vice president through the city. When Pence met with Icelandic officials, snipers were seen perched on the rooftops of nearby buildings, the AP wrote.
“The scale of Pence’s visit, not least the security arrangements, are greater than ever seen in Iceland before,” added RUV, the country’s national broadcasting service.
It is not uncommon for U.S. leaders to travel with a large security detail — President Barack Obama’s 2015 visit to New Delhi reportedly sent it into a lockdown — but such visits can be particularly challenging for smaller countries.
Iceland, a country of 350,000 people, has a remarkably small police force, the majority of which is armed only with batons and pepper spray. The country’s president, Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson, has been spotted, among other things, visiting a popular geothermal bath and “plogging” (picking up rubbish while jogging) around the presidential residence on his own.
Ahead of the visit, local news outlets worked to warn residents of the major road closures that were expected to cause traffic delays. According to the Reykjavik Grapevine, a magazine, police were urging residents to show “patience and understanding.”
Police say that traffic delays can be expected around the city, especially in the afternoon, and are asking the general public to show patience and understanding. As Pence will only be in the country for seven hours, and is expected to meet with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, this delay will be mercifully temporary.
The vice president’s trip was surrounded by several controversies.
It was initially reported that Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir would not be in town during Pence’s visit, sparking applause from critics of the administration who saw the move as a deliberate snub (Jakobsdottir said it was not, and wound up meeting him on Wednesday.) When the vice president, a conservative Christian and an opponent of same-sex marriage, arrived on the island, he was met with a flurry of rainbow flags, an oft-used symbol of LGBTQ pride.
Johannesson and his wife Eliza Reid also reportedly wore rainbow bracelets during their meeting with Pence.