‘Norway buying itself influence’

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Oil-rich Norway has donated more than NOK 640 million over the past nine years (USD 77 million at current exchange rates) to projects operated by the Clinton Foundation, set up by former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton, who’s now running for president herself. Experts suggest Norway is trying to buy influence, while state officials claim the country is simply using the foundation to carry out foreign aid projects.

Foreign Minister Børge Brende (right) with former US President Bill Clinton in Oslo on Wednesday, PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/MB Haga

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende of the Conservative Party (right) with former US President Bill Clinton in Oslo last year. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/MB Haga

Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that Norway is one of the biggest contributors to the Clinton Foundation’s projects. The money is becoming an issue in the current, hotly contested US presidential campaign, with the Republicans’ likely candidate Donald Trump already attacking the Clinton family for allegedly being financed by foreign governments.

Despite the arguable nature of such claims, Norway’s generosity regardless of which of its political parties holds government power raises some serious questions. Norway’s and other large givers’ support (such as that also given to the Clinton Foundation by Saudi Arabia) can be seen as a means of buying influence, Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University and an expert on legal ethics, told Aftenposten. Regardless of whether the motive was to buy influence, he argued, people can come to believe that decisions made by US authorities were made in Norway’s favour because of Norway’s generosity.

Craig Holman of the Public Citizen foundation, which campaigns for more openness about economic ties in US politics, also thinks the donations made by foreign countries can yield favours from an earlier foreign minister and future president. Hillary Clinton resigned from management of the foundation, though, when she launched her presidential campaign last year.

Norway has had close relations with the Clintons regardless of who holds government power. Here is former Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre greeting Hillary Clinton when she visited Oslo as US Secretary of State in 2012. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Norway has had good relations with the Clintons regardless of who holds government power. Here is former Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party greeting Hillary Clinton when she visited Oslo as US Secretary of State in 2012. It was during Støre’s tenure that the funding cooperation with the Clinton Foundation began. The current Conservatives-led government has carried it on. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Iver B Neumann, a Norwegian expert on diplomacy and a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said he has given up trying to separate idealism from politics in Norwegian foreign policy. “When Norway stares into its foreign policy tool box, there’s not much there apart from money,” Neumann told Aftenposten, adding that Norway can also well be buying itself access to the Clintons, one of the US most influential families. He seemed to defend the practice, though.

“No one who is concerned with Norway’s influence in the world can be against this,” Neumann said. “Network-building occurs all the time. The problem is that Norway is so open about it. When it gets discussed, it’s not always good, because foreign influence can easily be criticized in the US.”

“It’s not unreasonable to presume that Norway has used donations to various US circles to win political influence,” Ottar Mæstad, director of the Christian Michelsens development research institute in Bergen, told Aftenposten. He stressed, however, that the money can also be used to sway US priorities in the direction of what Norway is working towards. “To what degree that was the motive, I don’t know,” Mæstad said.

‘Not donations to the Clinton Foundation’
Frode Andersen, spokesman for the foreign ministry, claims that foreign aid donations are used in developing countries and “are not donations to the Clinton Foundation.” When the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) received money from Norway, they reportedly were more like conduits for providing Norwegian health and climate aid in developing countries.

“The cooperation is evaluated in line with normal procedures and followed up in an ordinary manner,” Andersen told Aftenposten. The money funneled through the Clinton Foundation’s projects “has yielded good and documented results in developing countries,” he said, also within children’s and mothers’ health and climate measures that are priorities for Norway.

“I don’t see there’s any foundation (for suggestions of influence buying) in these types of projects,” Andersen said.

Giving across party lines
The Norwegian foreign ministry’s cooperation with the Clinton Foundation began under Norway’s former foreign minister from the Labour Party, Jonas Gahr Støre. He wouldn’t answer Aftenposten’s questions about why the cooperation began, referring them to the Labour Party’s leader of the foreign affairs committee in Parliament, Anniken Huitfeldt.

“The support since 2007 was given for concrete projects in developing countries and not as donations to the Clinton Foundation,” Huitfeldt wrote to Aftenposten. “The projects were subject to normal procedures regarding consideration, reporting and evaluation.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund