Foreign minister back in the USA

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Foreign Minister Børge Brende headed for the US this week, not least to forge new ties and meet more formally with the new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Brende also has a string of other meetings lined up as Norway tries to develop contacts and spread its agenda within the new US administration.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende (front right) met briefly with the new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) at the G20 meeting in Bonn earlier this month. Now Brende was looking forward to a slightly longer meeting on Tillerson’s turf in Washington. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Ingrid Kvammen Ekker

“There are long and strong ties between Norway and the US,” Brende repeated before flying to Washington for his first meeting Tuesday afternoon. It’s with Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, and the goal, according to a statement from Norway’s foreign ministry, is to “discuss the strategy for fighting the terror organization.”

On Wednesday morning, Brende will have a half-hour with Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, leader of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “The US is our close ally,” Brende stated, “and we want to stress the continuance of our broad and good bilateral cooperation.”

Mending ties
Despite the lofty statements, Norwegian officials are now at somewhat of a disadvantage in Washington since the election of US President Donald Trump. Many Norwegians on both ends of the political spectrum had solid ties to Hillary Clinton and her team, and expected Trump to lose. Norwegian political commentators have noted that top officials thus lack contacts within the Trump administration and have been scrambling to forge some.

Even though Brende is from Norway’s Conservative Party, his degree of conservatism (and Norway’s in general) is quite low compared to that of the Trump administration and many Republicans in the Congress. Brende also criticized Trump during the campaign and like so many others around the world, has been both uncertain and worried about what policies Trump and a majority in the US Congress will preserve or scrap.

Brende will also meet with the more moderate Republican Senator John McCain, however, whom he’s met earlier. McCain has also been a counterweight to Trump and, as leader of the Senate’s defense committee, still seems a reliable ally on NATO issues and other defense concerns.

Half-hour with Tillerson, too
Norway’s foreign minister will also have a half-hour with Tillerson between the meetings with Corker and McCain. They recently met at the G20 meeting in Germany and Brende said he hopes to “deepen the cooperation” regarding both “regional and global” questions during his time in Washington.

“I want us to have a broad contact network with the new American administration and the political USA,” Brende stated.

On Thursday morning, Brende will also take part in a breakfast meeting entitled “Norway Creates Jobs in the US” that’s due to show how Norwegian business and investment contributes to the creation of nearly 500,000 jobs in the US. Given Trump’s much-hyped “America First” campaign and how Trump has bashed other countries for allegedly taking jobs away from the US, the program on Thursday will be a means for Brende to counter the argument. His presentation will be made with another conservative American and Trump supporter, US Representative Martha McSally, in attendance. She’s also a Republican who narrowly won her seat representing the Tucson area of southern Arizona after retiring as a US Air Force Colonel and fighter pilot. Like Trump, she opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, wants to repeal Obama Care and bar the US Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions.

She and Brende would thus seem to have little in common, since he and the vast majority of Norwegians support the rights to choice and gender equality and are fighting climate change, but he’ll be keen to try to get along with her, too. After three busy days in Washington, Brende will fly on to Colombia, where he’s been closely involved in the peace process that’s ending the country’s long-standing civil war.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund