Solheim keen on new UN post

Erik Solheim, the former Norwegian “super minister” who suddenly lost his government post because of a difficult leadership change within his political party, has confirmed he’s applied for the soon-to-be vacated post of Norway’s ambassador to the United Nations (UN). Solheim wants to stay active in international affairs and be able to use his vast international network.

Erik Solheim on a trip to Burma in 2010. Now he may be moving to New York. PHOTO: Views and News

Solheim had been tipped for the UN post as soon as news broke last month that he’d been replaced as government minister in charge of both the environment and foreign aid. Solheim, a veteran politician, was clearly stunned that he’d been sacrificed because of his Socialist Left (SV) party’s need for renewal. He didn’t want to give up his post and didn’t exactly leave office quietly.

At almost the same time, however, came news that Labour Party veteran Morten Wetland was resigning as Norway’s current ambassador to the UN to join the Oslo public relations firm First House, which has attracted many former top politicians from Labour and other parties. That meant the ambassador’s post would need to be filled by this fall, and speculation rose immediately that Solheim would be a likely candidate for the job.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Thursday that indeed he is. “I have applied for the job because I know a lot about the UN and its organization,” Solheim, who once served as a UN special envoy to try to broker peace in Sri Lanka, told DN. “I also know many UN leaders. The UN is also important for climate and environmental work, and I’ve built up a certain contact network over the years.”

That’s an understatement, given Solheim’s commitment to climate issues and heavy involvement in the past several years of UN climate conferences. As foreign aid minister, he’s also worked closely with the UN and has traveled all over the world.

He admits that he faces some tough competition for the job. Other candidates include Kai Eide, the Norwegian diplomat who formerly served as UN special envoy to Afghanistan and also has been Norway’s ambassador to NATO among other top posts. Geir O Pedersen, who most recently has led the Norwegian foreign ministry’s contact with the UN on peace and humanitarian issues, is another candidate, as is Cecilie Landsverk, currently Norway’s ambassador to Pakistan.

Former government colleagues who’ll make the decision may nonetheless feel that Solheim, age 57, deserves the UN ambassador post most, given his solid record and sheer energy as a longtime government minister and envoy, and the rather brutal manner in which he was shoved aside last month. Winding up as Norway’s ambassador at the UN in New York wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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