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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Former ministers ‘shocked’ by Trump

Three former Norwegian foreign ministers, including one who also served as Norway’s ambassador to the US, are urging the government to directly and more strongly oppose the new bans on entry to the US imposed President Donald J Trump. They also urged close cooperation with European allies in fighting such discrimination on the basis of religion or nationality.

Knut Vollebæk, a former Norwegian foreign minister and ambassador to the US, is deeply troubled by the Trump Administration’s decision to ban the entry of refugees and the citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries. PHOTO: OSCE

Among them is Knut Vollebæk of the Christian Democrats, who spent six years in Washington DC as ambassador from 2001 to 2007, just after his term as foreign minister in Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik’s first government. Vollebæk, along with many other Norwegian leaders on both ends of the political spectrum, is deeply troubled by Trump’s decision to deny entry to the US for all citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries, and to refugees including those already approved for asylum by the UN.

“For them, this is a huge personal tragedy,” Vollebæk  told newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday. Vollebæk, who also has served as high commissioner for national minorities at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), most recently has been working at the Norwegian Center for Human Rights.

Vollebæk, now 70, said he hopes the US’ own institutions, including the courts and the Congress, can mount opposition to Trump’s US entry bans, which have spread confusion and chaos around the world in the past few days. Trump’s rushed executive order was made without consulting the US’ own state department or border control authorities, and led to arrests of people arriving at US airports even if they held valid visas, work- or full-time residence permits.

‘Put pressure on the US’
Vollebæk joined other top politicians in calling for Norway to respond by taking in more UN-approved refugees for as long as all those from war-torn Syria are banned from the US. “That doesn’t mean we should let the US avoid its own obligations (to take in refugees),” Vollebæk said, but rather “put pressure on the US” along with other European countries.

Bjørn Tore Godal, a former foreign minister for the Labour Party, agreed. “We clearly should draft something like this,” Godal told Dagsavisen. “I think it was shocking news (to hear of the US bans) and I see that’s a feeling shared by many.”

Former Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, shown here with Syrian children at the Zatari Refugee Camp in Jordan in 2013, is also upset by the Trump Administration’s decision to close US borders indefinitely to refugees from the war in Syria. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Frode Overland

That also includes his party colleague Espen Barth Eide, who served as both defense minister and foreign minister in the former left-center government led by Labour’s Jens Stoltenberg, who now serves as secretary general of NATO. Eide, who recently has been working on a peace treaty for Cyprus, urged Norway’s current conservative coalition government to be “direct” in dialogue with US authorities. “If something, like now, raises questions about central principles involving human rights, freedom and equality and isn’t challenged, those principles will be weakened in the international arena,” Eide told Dagsavisen. He urged spreading Norway’s views via contacts throughout the entire political spectrum in the US.

That’s currently a challenge for Norway, which lacks the kind of broad network of contacts in the Trump Administration that it has had in earlier US administrations, both Republican and Democrat. Prime Minister Erna Solberg admitted to as much on Tuesday, telling newspaper Aftenposten that “so far, there’s been little contact with Trump’s inner circles, and we’re working on that.”

Solberg said that like many other countries, she and her government colleagues also were unsure how quickly, or even if, Trump would try to carry out some of his controversial campaign rhetoric. “But one should always expect that politicians who campaign for something, intend to carry it out,” Solberg told Aftenposten.

She remains, like so many others, uncertain over what policies the new administration in Washington will try to change next. In all her years at the highest levels of Norwegian and international politics, she can’t remember greater uncertainty at the start of a new US administration. “Some will probably say there was great uncertainty with (Ronald) Reagan, but Americans themselves didn’t seem as uncertain as now,” Solberg said. “We have perhaps never seen a US president who so clearly challenges what we’d otherwise expect from a large country like the US.”

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who got along well with former US President Barack Obama, isn’t happy about Trump’s refugee and travel bans either, but wants to wait with more criticism until the new president’s policies develop. PHOTO: The White House

She didn’t seem inclined, however, to heed all the advice of the previous foreign ministers, even though Vollebæk’s Christian Democrats are one of her minority government coalition’s support parties. Both its current leader, Knut Arild Hareide, and the leader of the government’s other support party, the Liberals, have also called on Solberg to take in more refugees, especially since the US is turning them away. Solberg and her immigration minister, Sylvi Listhaug, have refused. Solberg told Aftenposten that Norway has no obligation to take in more refugees than it already has or already agreed to accept. “We can’t change our policies just because the US changes course,” Solberg said.

In one area, Norway might, though. Another of Trump’s executive orders cut all financial aid to organizations that work on reproductive health issues, and offer women information and assistance on abortion. Women’s health has been a priority in Norwegian foreign aid for years and Solberg said Norway would evaluate the programs it works with that now may be in trouble because of Trump’s opposition to women’s rights to abortion. Such rights are extremely important to most Norwegians, and have prompted demonstrations even during Solberg’s own term as prime minister.

Solberg also will oppose any move by Trump to ease or suspend economic sanctions on Russia, stressing that the western nations that imposed them must stand united on them.

As for how Norway’s relations with the US, long its biggest ally, will develop, Solberg said it was “a bit early” to say. “Instead of speculating on what will happen, the most important strategy for Norway is to work on what’s in our national interests, and wait until we see how the development will actually be.” Her own foreign minister, Børge Brende, who also expressed concern this week over Trump’s refugee and travel bans, was due to address Parliament on Wednesday regarding Norway’s relations with the US. Berglund



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