Solheim faces rejection, again

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Erik Solheim, the veteran politician and diplomat who lost his ministerial post earlier this spring, now seems to have also lost his bid to become Norway’s new ambassador to the United Nations (UN). He’s taking it in stride, suggesting other opportunities will loom for him.

Erik Solheim, shown here meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, was a top government minister until just recently. Now he's looking for a new top job. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported this week that Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre wasn’t inclined to give the prestigious UN ambassador post to Solheim, even though Solheim is highly qualified for it and wants it.

Rather, according to DN, the post seems likely to go to another highly qualified, top official in the foreign ministry, Geir O Pedersen, who also happens to be Solheim’s best friend. Solheim and Pedersen served as forlover (best man) for each other at their respective weddings, they are faddere (godfathers) for each other’s children and their families have often vacationed together.

“Geir O Pedersen isn’t only a friend of mine, he’s one of my absolutely best friends,” Solheim told DN a few years ago when he was still the so-called “super minister” within Norway’s left-center government coalition, serving as minister for both the environment and foreign aid.

May have burned his bridges
When Solheim lost those ministerial posts as part of a political leadership change within his party, the Socialist Left (SV), Solheim became a candidate for the UN ambassador post in New York. It’s about to be vacated by Morten Wetland of the Labour Party, who is resigning to go into the PR business with local agency First House.

Competition to be Norway’s top envoy to the UN has been keen, however, with another veteran diplomat, Kai Eide, also in the running. Eide also has lots of experience within the UN system, after having served as the UN’s special envoy to Afghanistan.

Now the council that officially recommends a candidate to Støre reportedly has placed Pedersen at the top of its list. Støre can overlook the council’s recommendation and choose Solheim instead but likely won’t, according to DN, for two major reasons: Solheim irritated former party colleagues when he loudly protested being dumped as a cabinet minister, and Støre didn’t apparently like his protests either. Pedersen also has impeccable credentials after having served as head of the foreign ministry’s division that deals with the UN, peace and humanitarian issues. He also has been the UN’s Special Envoy to the Middle East and is viewed as having the best overview of details within the UN system. That would allow Støre to avoid granting the appointment to Solheim as a political favour.

‘Still best friends’
The ministry wasn’t commenting on the UN post until an appointment was made. Solheim, who remains a “special adviser” in the foreign ministry, didn’t want to comment on DN’s report either, but told DN he was in a “tight dialogue with Jonas about assignments I can carry out on behalf of Norway.

“If Geir O gets the job (of UN ambassador), he will still be my best friend and one of the best qualified who ever has been UN ambassador,” Solheim continued. “I wish him the best of luck.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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