PM ‘blacklisted’ by White House

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Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was on his way to Washington DC this week for a long-awaited meeting at the White House with US President Barack Obama. According to Norwegian media, the meeting marks the end of a long “blacklist” period for Stoltenberg.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg showed US President Barack Obama around his now-bombed-out office in Oslo in December 2009. On Thursday, Obama was due to host Stoltenberg at the White House. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Wednesday that former US President George W Bush had blacklisted Stoltenberg because the then-newly elected prime minister gave Norwegian media an incorrect version of Bush’s congratulatory phone call back in 2005. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) quickly followed up, running the video and audio of the version Stoltenberg gave at the time.

Stoltenberg said Bush had congratulated him with his coalition government’s victory and that “I said we wanted to continue the fight against terror, but that we had expressed that we didn’t want Norwegian officers to be in Iraq any longer.”

That angered Bush and his administration, according to Aftenposten. The newspaper cited a “prominent” but unidentified American source who said Stoltenberg did not actually tell Bush that Norwegian officers would be pulled out of Iraq. When Bush heard that Stoltenberg had told media otherwise, he allegedly viewed Stoltenberg as dishonest and never invited him to the White House.

“The problem wasn’t that Norway was pulling officers out of the NATO operation in Iraq,” the source told Aftenposten. “The problem was that Stoltenberg didn’t tell Bush that, but told the media afterwards that he had. He didn’t speak truthfully about the contents of the conversation with Bush. That destroyed the relationship between them completely.” Other unnamed sources, both American and Norwegian, offered similar versions of the aftermath of Bush’s phone call.

‘Never meant to say anything wrong’
When confronted with the charges of untruthfulness, Stoltenberg told Aftenposten that he never meant to say anything wrong. He described the call from Bush as “short and nice” but admitted that some “lack of clarity” arose afterwards.

Stoltenberg said he later had a conversation with the US ambassador to Norway “and we cleared up any misunderstandings.” Stoltenberg claimed they haven’t been an issue since “and our relations to the US have been excellent, even though there have been political disagreements.”

There’s no question that both Stoltenberg, his Labour Party and Labour’s coalition partners had expressed several times during the election campaign of 2005 that Norway would pull its last officers out of Iraq. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise to Bush or his government, but it was Stoltenberg’s alleged lack of truthfulness to the media that apparently landed Stoltenberg on a White House blacklist.

Stoltenberg said he never made any connection between the flap over Bush’s phone call and his lack of an invitation to the White House. It’s also taken Obama nearly three years to invite Stoltenberg, but that’s been blamed on scheduling difficulties.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund