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Niinistö returns to Washington: US-Finnish ties have never been closer

At a glitzy centenary celebration in Washington, President Sauli Niinistö said that bonds between Finland and the United States are closer than ever. A-list guests were treated to Sibelius and wild mushrooms at the Finnish Embassy.

Presidentti Sauli Niinistö ja rouva Jenni Haukio saapumassa Washingtonin Suomen suurlähetystöön Suomi 100 -gaalaan.
President Sauli Niinistö and his wife Jenni Haukio arriving at the Washington embassy for the Finland 100 gala. Image: Paula Vilén / Yle

Finland arranged a glitzy centenary celebration in Washington on Saturday evening, hosted by Finnish Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi.

Entinen suurlähettiläs McElveen Hunter.
Bonnie McElveen Hunter Image: Suomen Washingtonin suurlähetystö

On hand were just over 100 guests. Among them were seven former US ambassadors to Helsinki, including Bonnie McElveen Hunter, Bruce Oreck and Charles C. Adams, Jr, as well as political pundits and decision-makers.

Sibelius and wild mushrooms

Inside, guests were treated to a familiar array of Finnishness. Soprano Camilla Nylund performed songs by Jean Sibelius and Toivo Kuula, accompanied by pianist Matti Hirvonen.

Oopperalaulaja Camilla Nylund ja pianisti Matti Hirvonen.
Camilla Nylund and Matti Hirvonen Image: Paula Vilén / Yle

Embassy chef Jyrki Jääskeläinen served a menu including gravlax, archipelago bread, game and chanterelle mushrooms, washed down with wine from a Finnish-owned vineyard in the US.

In his speech, President Sauli Niinistö described Finland and the US as old friends who are now closer than ever. Niinistö quipped that his frequent flier miles attests to this. He was last in Washington less than three weeks ago to meet with his opposite number Donald Trump at the White House.

Suomen Washingtonin suurlähetystön kokki Jyrki Jääskeläinen.
Jyrki Jääskeläinen Image: Paula Vilén / Yle

Niinistö added wryly that the embassy staff would be glad to hear that he does not plan to visit the city twice a month or even once a month in future. This time he was accompanied by his wife Jenni Haukio, who did not join him for the White House visit.

Growing interest in Finland

Niinistö commented to Finnish journalists that Americans are surprisingly well aware of Finland's history, even among younger people. He added that there is now strong interest in the country among US politicians and journalists.

"Of course there is interest in our excellent results in various international comparisons. I think that is however perhaps primarily [an interest in] a certain societal unity in Finland, which is reflected in that fact that we have long been considered the most stable country in the world. That is quite a valuable thing when there seems to be unrest now in many places around the world," said the president.

Niinistö also speculated that interest in Finland has grown because of the situation regarding the Baltic Sea area and Russia.

Still no US ambassador

Many on hand mentioned one minor hitch in Finnish-US ties at the moment. Since the new administration took over in Washington early this year, many official posts have remained unfilled, including that of US Ambassador to Helsinki.

Suomen Yhdysvaltain-suurlähettiläs Kirsti Kauppi.
Finnish Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi Image: Paula Vilén / Yle

Foreign Minister Timo Soini, meanwhile, called for more trade between the two nations.

"We would be glad to sell our excellent icebreakers and many other things here," Soini told the Yle reporter at the party.

This coming week, Niinistö and Haukio will be in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly, and then in Minneapolis for the Finnish-American FinnFest, including a Minnesota Orchestra concert under the baton of Osmo Vänskä.

Finland marks the 100th anniversary of its independence from Russia on December 6.

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