Mattis mended ties after NATO Summit

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Helicopters whirled over Oslo Friday evening and Saturday morning, when the US’ Secretary of Defense James Mattis showed up for a short visit that wasn’t made public until after he’d arrived. He praised Norway’s defense contributions to NATO, in what appeared to be an attempt to make up for his US president’s harsh criticism of NATO allies who aren’t yet spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis posed with Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen in Oslo on Saturday, in what appeared to be a joint effort to claim that relations between the US and Norway remained strong despite US President Donald Trump’s complaints at the NATO Summit. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Mattis actually apologized that it had taken so long for him “to come to Norway to pay my respects.” He pointed to Norway’s historic role as a nation promoting peace, and praised the country for its contributions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and for its security policy in the Arctic.

“We will continue to work towards strengthening the tight and close cooperation,” Mattis said at a brief meeting with reporters, before which neither he nor Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen had offered to take any questions or be interviewed afterwards. “We don’t take anything for granted.”

His conciliatory remarks were in sharp contrast to the fuss US President Donald Trump created at what was widely described as the most dramatic NATO Summit ever earlier in the week. Trump started out by bashing Germany, NATO’s second-biggest ally, and then kept complaining that NATO members weren’t contributing nearly enough funding to the alliance. While all have agreed to work towards boosting spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024, only eight members have complied so far, and Trump doesn’t think the others are moving quickly enough to achieve the goal.

Mattis arrived in Oslo after a busy week in Europe, during which he reassured NATO allies of US support. It’s been called into question because of the uncertainty created by US President Donald Trump. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Norway is among the offenders in Trump’s eyes, spending only around 1.6 percent of GDP on defense. Prime Minister Erna Solberg has, however, defended Norway’s contributions to NATO and doesn’t think sheer spending amounts are as important as how the money is put to use.

Mattis seemed to smooth the feathers Trump ruffled in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday. After a quick trip to Croatia right after the meeting, he arrived in Norway late on Friday, the last stop on his trip to Europe. Two military helicopters and one police helicopter disrupted the warm summer evening as they provided security for Mattis’ entourage.

He and Bakke-Jensen also formalized an agreement on Saturday that allows the US to send up to 700 soldiers to Norway, stationed at both Værnes and Indre Troms. “They’ll get very good training here,” Bakke-Jensen claimed at the press briefing. “When they train with our forces, we also get better training, so it’s a win-win situation that we’re very pleased with.”

The political defense bosses for the US and Norway were all smiles after a dramatic NATO Summit in Brussel earlier in the week. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Mattis wouldn’t say exactly when the additional US forces will be sent to Norway, but claimed he was very grateful that Norway was allowing it. The joint training comes despite loud objections from Russian officials.

Mattis also showed himself to be much more patient than his president. He called the NATO meeting a “success,” and said that Norway’s commitment to reach the 2 percent goal shows how NATO is now stronger than earlier. The 2 percent goal was agreed back in 2014, however, when Barack Obama was the US president and also urged other NATO members to boost their defense spending.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund