Norway’s foreign minister, Børge Brende, was late for a meeting with arguably the world’s most powerful man last week, but could only laugh it off. The reason was another meeting with his US counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, that ran into overtime, so Brende was excused.
“I’ll just have to live with that,” Brende told Norwegian reporters assembled at the White House in Washington DC on Thursday evening. The occasion was a high-level gesture of appreciation from US President Barack Obama over the progress being made in peace talks between the government of Colombia and the Colombian guerrilla group FARC.
The talks are going on in Cuba and Norway played an active role in finally getting them underway more than three years ago. Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, was in Washington DC last week and Obama also invited Brende to the White House to “thank our Norwegian partners” in the peace process.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported, however, that just before Obama made his entrance into the ceremony, a White House staff member quietly removed Brende’s namecard from a chair in the fourth row. And Brende wasn’t there to hear Obama’s words of thanks.
Norway worked for several years in facilitating the peace talks. At the same time, the humanitarian organization Norske Folkehjelp (Norwegian People’s Aid) has led a project to remove land mines spread around Colombia. Brende arrived in Washington, straight from the donors’ conference for Syria that Norway helped organize in London last week, with another NOK 180 million (around USD 20 million) to help finance mine removal in Colombia over the next three years.
The mine removal is a “central” part of the peace efforts and conciliation process, Kerry told reporters after making a surprise appearance with Brende in the White House press room. Kerry also thanked Norway “for the cooperation we’ve had,” as part of consolation efforts after making Brende late for the meeting with Obama.
Brende said he managed, meanwhile, to speak with Santos after the ceremony he missed. “He (Santos) says he doesn’t think there’s any way back now (in the peace process),” Brende told reporters, adding that they’ve made good progress but there’s still a lot to be resolved.