Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg didn’t manage to convince all his Nordic colleagues or US President Barack Obama that no attack on Syria should be made without a mandate from the United Nations (UN). He now says he’ll push for another initiative that he thinks could lead to a mandate.
Stoltenberg joined his Nordic colleagues at a “working dinner” at the home of Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in Stockholm Wednesday night, held in connection with Obama’s earlier planned visit to Sweden. When Obama cancelled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin following major disagreements between the two, his schedule opened up a bit prior to the upcoming G20 meeting in St Petersburg. Obama filled it with the dinner meeting of the leaders of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland.
Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is among those willing to go along with Obama’s plans to attack the Syrian government without a UN mandate, in retaliation for its recent alleged use of chemical weapons. Others, including Russia, claim there’s not enough proof that the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical attack, and point instead to the fragmented Syrian opposition currently at war with the Syrian government. US officials remain confident that the Assad regime was behind the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, and that the international community must thus react.
Stoltenberg and the Norwegian left-center government coalition he leads has said it won’t go along with any military intervention that’s not backed by a UN mandate. He may not be Norway’s prime minister after parliamentary elections are held on Monday, though, and his main rival, Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg has expressed a willingness to join a military attack on Syria without a UN mandate.
In the meantime, Stoltenberg said that he planned to propose a new initiative to get the UN Security Council to issue a general condemnation of the use of chemical weapons. That, he feels, may lead to a UN mandate that would clear the way for retaliation against Syria.
“There is agreement between the Nordic countries and the US that we condemn the use of chemical weapons as an unacceptable violation of the rule of law,” Stoltenberg told news bureau NTB. “We also agree that an international reaction against Syria is needed.”
His dinner meeting in Stockholm with Obama and his fellow Nordic prime ministers lasted nearly an hour longer than planned and Stoltenberg didn’t manage to get all his table mates to agree on the need for a UN mandate. But he said after the dinner that “Barack Obama responded that he would like to resolve the situation over Syria through the UN Security Council. At the same time, he’s impatient and firmly believes that the use of chemical weapons must lead to a reaction.” Obama himself had earlier in the day talked about what he sees as a “moral obligation” to react.
Stoltenberg interrupted the last crucial days of the election campaign to fly to Stockholm for the meeting with Obama, which was dominated by the Syrian crisis. After eight years in office in Norway, Stoltenberg has been campaigning for a third term as prime minister but trails in the public opinion polls behind Solberg.