Espen Barth Eide, the Norwegian state secretary who’s been referred to as helpful to the US in documents obtained and released by WikiLeaks, denies the latest allegation that he helped the US Embassy secure a new property on Oslo’s north side.
In a document released through Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, former US Ambassador Benson Whitney characterized Barth Eide as one of the most powerful people in Norway’s left-center government, “even though he’s only a state secretary” (one level below a cabinet minister).
Whitney went on to write in 2008 that Barth Eide, who played a key role in Norway’s decision to buy fighter jets from the US, also was helpful to the US “on several important issues.” Among them, according to Whitney, was the US’ purchase of land for a new embassy compound at Huseby in Oslo.
Whitney wrote that Barth Eide “intervened” on “touchy real estate issues” affecting the purchase.
That upsets the activist group, Aksjon Vern Husebyskogen, that’s been trying to block the embassy’s move to Huseby. “We want to know what he (Barth Eide) has done in the embassy case,” group leader Margrethe Geelmuyden told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). She said the group had been told repeatedly by the Defense Ministry, where Barth Eide worked at the time, that it had nothing to do with the controversial issue, which it called a matter for the City of Oslo.
“Now it appears they have done something, and we want to know what, whose interests Barth Eide has represented, and in what way,” Geelmuyden said.
Barth Eide initially declined to comment on the WikiLeaks exposure but later sent a message to NRK denying that he involved himself in where the US Embassy could build a new compound.
“I believed clearly that was a city matter,” Barth Eide wrote in a text message to NRK. He said the only point the Defense Ministry was involved in had to do with a real estate matter tied to Skifte Eiendom, but that had nothing to do with the city’s decision-making process.”
Geelmuyden told NRK that she thinks the government lobbied on behalf of the US Embassy and put the city under pressure to rezone the Huseby property for embassy use. Construction has been delayed over her group’s appeals.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, where Barth Eide now works as state secretary, called Whitney’s report “subjective” views from an ambassador that may not be true even if the ambassador thinks it is.