Solberg prepares to tackle Trump

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UPDATED: Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg intends to talk about the importance of free trade and efforts to reverse climate change when she meets US President Donald Trump in Washington on January 10. Neither topic is likely to endear her to the controversial Trump, but Solberg thinks they’re important.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg recently summed up the last six months of her government and now faces more negotiations over whether her government coalition will be expanded. Now she’s also preparing for a bilateral meeting in Washington with US President Donald Trump. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“The US is important for Norway, for security and trade,” Solberg stated in a press release confirming her upcoming visit Wednesday evening. It was issued just after the White House confirmed her meeting with Trump.

Solberg said the meeting “gives us the opportunity to put forth our views on open world trade and the importance of working together internationally to solve climate change challenges.” Trump himself has stressed that his policy is to put “America first” as he has pulled out of trade talks, criticized NATO, withdrawn from the UN’s climate agreement struck in Paris and defied the vast majority of UN members by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The themes of Trump’s meeting with Solberg, according to her office, will be security policy, cooperation in NATO, common Norwegian-American interests and international issues such as peace processes, climate and trade policy. Solberg’s new defense minister, Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, will also take part in the meeting with Trump.

A press release from the US Embassy in Oslo Thursday morning, meanwhile, stated that Trump “will welcome” Solberg to the White House and that he “looks forward to exchanging views on … how jointly to advance regional and global security, and economic prosperity.” NATO will be on the agenda along with “shared defense and security goals” in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, as well as trade and investment between the United States and Norway.”

Areas of disagreement
Both Solberg and other top Norwegian political leaders were unhappy that Trump wants to pull out of the UN climate agreement struck in Paris. Most Norwegian politicians apart from those in the protectionist Center Party support the free trade and international trade agreements that Trump has rejected. There’s been real concern in Norway over the US’ commitment to and participation in NATO since Trump moved into the White House, and Solberg was critical of his recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Norway has long favoured a two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and wants Jerusalem shared by both.

Solberg will be visiting Trump with such disagreements in the background after his first year in office. She clearly plans to push Norway’s views while also trying to maintain good relations with the country Norway has long considered to be its most important ally. She and Trump have met briefly twice before, at the NATO and G20 summits earlier this year. Their meeting at the White House will be their first bilateral session, at a time when the US still lacks an ambassador in Oslo. Trump nominated an ambassador last fall, but he still faces congressional confirmation.

Also immersed in new government talks
The meeting with Trump comes just as Solberg will also be immersed in negotiations over whether the Liberal Party might join her conservative minority government coalition with the Progress Party. She admitted at her half-year press conference just before the Christmas holidays that a long list of issues must still be resolved before her coalition might be expanded.

“We don’t know if we’ll manage to come to terms,” Solberg told reporters. “That remains to be seen. There are many large and difficult issues in front of us.” She clearly tried to dampen expectations over whether their government talks would succeed.

The most difficult issues continue to be how Norway should make the shift to a “greener” economy that’s less reliant on its oil industry, and how many asylum seekers and immigrants should be allowed into Norway. They also have differences over tax policy. Solberg told newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday, however, that controversial proposals for oil exploration off Lofoten aren’t the most important for her coalition, indicating that she may continue to give in to the Liberals’ demand that no exploration or production be allowed.

Cooperation to continue
In the meantime, Solberg and the Progress Party continue to rule together as they have for the past four years. Solberg also stressed that her current two-party coalition will continue to cooperate with the Liberals and with the Christian Democrats in opposition as well.

She admitted that her government had to accept a new policy pushed by the Liberals that sets standards for teacher-pupil ratios in Norwegian schools (called larernormen), in order to win approval for her government’s state budget. Otherwise she thinks her second term as prime minister is off to a good start. Winning re-election was her biggest accomplishment of all during the past six months, she said, after seeing Norway through the plunge in oil prices and the migration crisis, shortening waiting lists for health care and modernizing the public sector.

Negotiations between Solberg’s government and the Liberals will resume next week at what’s supposed to be a secret location. The goal is to strike an agreement, or agree to disagree, by January 19.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund