UPDATED: US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton landed in Oslo Thursday night and planned to stay into the weekend with a trip up to northern Norway, escorted by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. The ministry itself was left denying that Clinton’s visit didn’t involve a snub to officials in the northern city of Tromsø.
Foreign ministry officials announced late last week that Clinton would arrive May 31 and stay in Norway until June 2. They later claimed that US authorities didn’t confirm Clinton’s visit until last Friday.
She was spending most of this Friday morning, June 1, in meetings with both Støre and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Clinton was also to meet King Harald V at the Royal Palace in Oslo in the mid-afternoon.
Then she’ll participate along with Støre and Queen Sonja in an international conference on global health being held at the Oslo City Hall. The invitation-only conference, hosted by the foreign ministry, aims to gather “prominent politicians and experts in a joint effort to eliminate the tragic and preventable deaths of women, mothers and children around the world,” according to the conference’s own website.
The foreign ministry reported that Clinton also had expressed interest in meeting some of the survivors of last summer’s terrorist massacre on the island of Utøya.
On Friday evening, Clinton and Støre planned to travel north to Tromsø for meetings on Arctic issues, including cooperation among countries bordering on the Arctic. The nordområdene (northern areas), as Støre calls them, have been a priority for Støre since he took over as Norway’s foreign minister in 2005.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Friday morning, though, that Støre, from the Labour Party, had neglected to include Tromsø Mayor Jens Johan Hjort, from the Conservative Party, in the planning for the meetings with Clinton, and that Hjort wasn’t invited to take part until yesterday, May 31. It was the second time this week that Støre was in Tromsø on official business, without making a courtesy call to Hjort first.
‘Unusual’ breach of protocol
“This is quite unusual,” researcher Iver B Neumann of foreign policy institute NUPI in Oslo told Aftenposten. “We have a long tradition in Norway that party connections don’t play a role in official foreign visits. It’s the state that’s inviting, not the party. This is a violation of state manners.”
Tromsø is considered one of the emerging gateways to the increasingly important Arctic areas. Its mayor Hjort declined to comment on why the Labour-led foreign ministry had excluded him and other members of Tromsø’s conservative city government from planning for a visit by the US Secretary of State, noting only that “I have good experience with thinking positively” and would do what he could to ensure that “that Hillary Clinton has a fine stay in our city.” Hjort would participate by meeting Clinton at the airport in Tromsø Friday evening.
Jan Tore Sanner, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, said he hoped the breach of protocol was simply an error, “but I fear this is a sign of provocative arrogance towards Tromsø and its local mayor.” Foreign ministry officials rejected that, indicating that they couldn’t understand the criticism around Clinton’s visit.
“The visit was first finally confirmed from American authorities last Friday,” Ragnhild Imerslund, communications director for the ministry, told Aftenposten. “We wanted to have the (Tromsø) mayor along and took contact with him when we had the opportunity to involve him. That wasn’t before Wednesday, when an American advance team was in Tromsø and the final details fell into place.”
Støre and Clinton, meanwhile, have met several times before but the trip was to be Clinton’s first to Norway as US Secretary of State. She visited Svalbard when she was still a US Senator and was also in Lillehammer as First Lady, when her husband Bill Clinton was US President.
Her trip is part of a diplomatic tour around Scandinavia. She spent six hours in Denmark on Thursday before flying up to Norway where she was spending two full days. From Tromsø she planned to travel to Stockholm for a one-day visit on Sunday.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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