New US Embassy was put on hold
December 16, 2010
Construction of a new US Embassy complex at Huseby on Oslo’s north side has been controversial and the subject of various lawsuits. Now it appears the project was put on hold by officials in Washington, over lack of funds.
Documents made available by WikiLeaks and reported by Aftenposten.no reveal that the US State Department decided two years ago to delay construction of the complex from 2011 until 2020.
Funding was tight, according a document dated July 7, 2009, and the need for new embassy facilities was higher in several other cities than in Oslo. The 51-year-old embassy in Oslo has long been considered a target for terrorists, and its prime location on a busy corner on the fringe of downtown fails to meet modern security standards.
Embassy officials had attached a sense of urgency to the process of finding a new location and building on it, when in fact the authorities in Washington already had postponed the project. One US official noted that fortunately, however, the postponement wasn’t publicly known in Oslo.
The former US Ambassador to Norway, Benson Whitney, reportedly worried that the state department decision would lead to more negative publicity for the US Embassy in Oslo. Whitney was concerned it could also confuse Norwegian officials who’d been given the impression the project was urgent.
According to Aftenposten.no, it was agreed the embassy project would proceed anyway, in the hopes funding would eventually materialize. As late as this spring, embassy officials told a gathering of Americans living in Norway that the project was moving forward, with no hint that Washington had wanted to drop it for another 10 years.
Most agree the embassy should move from its current location, but the new proposed location at Huseby has set off protests from neighbours. Few people want a terrorist target in their neighbourhood, and the Huseby location also is considered to be the last patch of open space in the area. Politicians trying to accommodate the Americans’ needs and desires for a new embassy, have done so at great political risk to themselves and their parties.
It also emerged in a WikiLeaks document that Whitney at one point asked Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre whether there was any way they could influence local courts handling lawsuits that sought to block the project. A professor at the University of Oslo called such a request highly unusual if not unheard of, because courts in a democracy should not be influenced by politicians. There was no information on Støre’s response to the ambassador’s request.