Syria crisis hits election campaign

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Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide cancelled all his scheduled election campaign appearances on Wednesday in order to concentrate on the ongoing crisis in Syria. Eide has said that Norway won’t join any military strikes against Syria without a mandate from the UN Security Council.

Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide was in Jordan on Wednesday and Thursday while debate over refugee treatment in Norway continued. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide was in Jordan earlier this summer to monitor the situation for Syrian refugees. Now he’s faced with joining an attack on the Syrian government over its alleged use of chemical weapons. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

That may cause conflicts with Norway’s biggest allies, the US and the UK. Both have been indicating that they and the world should react with force against Syria’s government, which they believe has used chemical weapons against its own people.

Denmark and France, also members of NATO along with the US and UK, have also suggested they are willing to go along with a military strike against Syria without a UN mandate. All claim they’re not taking sides in the civil war that has raged in Syria for two years, but rather are reacting to the use of chemical weapons.

That adds to the pressure on Norway, which has long been an active member of NATO and supports most of its initiatives. Norway’s neighbouring Russia, meanwhile, opposes an attack on the Syrian government, as does China, with whom Norway is trying to improve relations. Germany is also involved in an election campaign and won’t support a military operation at this point.

Bipartisan consensus
Eide and his Norwegian Labour Party pretty much have the support of the other political parties in parliament, with only the Progress Party and the Liberal Party indicating they may favour a military operation without a UN mandate. Eide is deeply concerned that the UN Security Council couldn’t agree on the issue, with Russia still supporting the Assad regime in Syria, but claimed Norway won’t get involved in any operation without an agreement.

“Any action must be anchored in the UN and the rule of law,” Eide, who was in the Middle East earlier this week, told newspaper Aftenposten. He was due to visit parliament and orient its foreign relations committee on the situation on Wednesday, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

“The split within the Security Council is very serious,” Eide said. “It makes the conflict worse. When the council is divided, it sends the signal that the two sides (in Syria) can just carry on. It’s alarming that they couldn’t agree on a common platform.”

Campaign rivalry set aside
Election campaign rivalry was set aside as the Syria crisis unfolded, with the Conservative Party supporting Eide and the Labour Party, as did the Socialist Left party (SV). SV, which shares government power with Labour at least until the election on September 9, said the government would not support military intervention without a UN mandate.

Jan Arild Ellingsen of the Progress Party, however, said that if “some of the heavy members of NATO” (like the US and UK) go forward to create a buffer zone in Syria and Norway is asked to join, it would be difficult to say no. Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party said that the international community “can’t sit still and watch the use of chemical weapons.” He also supported efforts to prevent further use of such weapons.

A spokesman for Eide, meanwhile, said it was “important for the foreign minister now to have his attention directed fully on the crisis in Syria.” Norway supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but later supported the bombing of Libya, with Norwegian fighter jets playing a leading role in the attacks in 2011. Now the Norwegian government that’s trying to win a third term in office likely will need to decide whether to say “yes” or “no” to a coalition where the US and other NATO countries do the job the UN can’t sanction, with a national election a week-and-a-half away.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund