US ambassador nominee testifies

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Samuel Heins, the wealthy Minnesota attorney who’s been nominated by US President Barack Obama to be the next US ambassador to Norway, seems to have survived his grilling by a US Senate committee last week. That means the US finally may put an envoy in place in Oslo, after two years without.

Samuel D Heins looks likely to become the US' long-awaited new ambassador to Norway. PHOTO: Ploughshares Fund

Attorney Samuel D Heins has now testified at his US Senate confirmation hearing and looks on track to become the US’ next ambassador to Norway. PHOTO: Ploughshares Fund

The absence of a US ambassador to Norway “has been embarrassing,” a top official at the US’ embassy in Oslo told newsinenglish.no recently. If the US and Norway weren’t such strong allies, the situation would have raised eyebrows, like the absence of a Chinese ambassador in Oslo did a few years ago when relations between China and Norway froze over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident.

Ties between Norway and the US are strong, however, and all indications are that Heins will now be confirmed relatively quickly. That’s in sharp contrast to Obama’s previous nominee, George Tsunis, who stumbled badly during his Senate confirmation hearing early last year. He portrayed embarrassing ignorance of Norwegian politics and offended one of the two parties forming Norway’s government coalition, resulting in his nomination being blasted by Norwegian-Americans and Obama’s opponents.

Tsunis’ nomination was ultimately withdrawn, but only after a drawn-out conflict. Obama then nominated Heins, who, like Tsunis, has been a prominent fundraiser for Obama and the Democratic Party.

The top post at the embassy in Oslo has been staffed in the meantime by a senior diplomat in the role of a Chargé d’Affaires, and currently by Robert Bradtke, a career diplomat and a former ambassador to Croatia who arrived in June and can use the ambassador title in his caretaker role. It’s hoped Heins can finally arrive in Oslo early this autumn. The Minneapolis newspaper Star Tribune has quoted one of its two Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar, as saying that “it’s time to fill this important position.” She thanked the senate committee for holding Heins’ confirmation hearing relatively quickly after his nomination was finally announced in May.

“Norway deserves an ambassador who understands the country and is equally committed to the relationship,” Klobuchar said. “Getting an ambassador confirmed would be a major step forward.”

Heins himself testified that he would “devote every effort to enhancing this remarkable relationship. We Minnesotans are happy to think of ourselves as honorary Norwegians.” He was referring to the state’s large population of Norwegian-Americans, many of them descendants of the hundreds of thousands of Norwegians who have emigrated to the US since the 1800s.

Heins’ term as ambassador will nonetheless be short, since Obama’s own second term as US president expires at the end of next year. It’s then traditional for all politically appointed ambassadors to resign and make way for new envoys sent either by the US State Department or the new US president to be elected in November 2016.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund