US and Norwegian officials cut a red, white and blue ribbon to ceremoniously open the new US Embassy in Oslo on Thursday, while their speeches all stressed the importance of US-Norwegian ties that bind. At a time of uncertainty created by the new US president, they clearly felt a need to reinforce the strong relations between the two countries that have existed for more than a century.
The ceremony at the US’ large new embassy compound northwest of downtown was held 50 years to the day that the US commissioned the former embassy that opened in 1959. “Quite a lot has changed since then,” said Jim DeHart, who’s been chief of the embassy since former US ambassador Sam Heins resigned in January, just before Donald J Trump was sworn in as the new US president.
“But our relationship (between the US and Norway) was already very strong (50 years ago),” DeHart said in his welcoming remarks on Thursday. He cited many of the reasons for that, from the immigration of hundreds of thousands of Norwegians to the US beginning in the 1800s (which led to what he called strong “people to people” ties), to how both Norway and the US were founding members of NATO after World War II. “We’ve seen Norway come up and rise to become a prosperous nation,” DeHart continued, claiming that the US has “great respect” for what Norway has done and does on the international stage.
Raymond Johansen of the Norwegian Labour Party, who now heads Oslo’s city government, also picked up on the theme of US-Norwegian relations. He noted that he wants “closer ties” and, for example, more student exchanges between the US and Norway.
The importance of the relation between the countries dominated the remarks made by Norway’s Foreign Minister Børge Brende, who’s been challenged himself lately by mixed signals and the unpredictability of US President Donald Trump in line with so many other world leaders. Brende stressed that the US, however, was one of the first countries to recognize Norway’s independence back in 1905. He noted that their generally good relations since “go back to the (US’) founding fathers,” and their policies of freedom, liberty, justice and the “checks and balances” that “inspired” Norway’s own democracy and system of government. “I’m looking forward to many visits (to the new embassy), and to continue good relations with the United States of America,” Brende said.
The construction of the embassy itself all but tested those relations at several points, with Johansen saying that “we have to admit it has been a long and winding road” as the process led to strong and long-lasting protests from neighbours who did not want what they called “a terror target” in their neighbourhood. “It was clear the US needed a new embassy,” Johansen said. “One of the major challenges was that the land (chosen after US officials had rejected several other sites offered to them) was zoned as recreational property. Turning it over to a super-power was a challenge in itself.”
DeHart had already noted that “this day has taken a while to arrive,” in a mastery of understatement. After years of debate, lawsuits and various court rulings, during which the neighbours lost their case, ground was finally broken on the site in 2012, 10 years after it was first proposed. It then took five years to build, but finally emerged as what’s been described as an elegant if “powerful diplomatic fortification” surrounded by landscaping meant to blend in with the neighbouring Huseby Forest. “We are absolutely committed to being good neighbours,” DeHart stressed, with the embassy planning to invite local residents to a “housewarming” party in August.
Others have noted that it’s significant that US officials in Washington decided to invest so much time and money (an estimated NOK 1 billion, or USD 125 million) in an embassy in Norway. The Americans also went along with many construction and energy demands made by Norwegian officials. “They were a bit surprised,” recalled Ellen S de Vibe, Oslo’s chief of planning, to magazine D2 last month. “They weren’t used to local authorities imposing so many demands.” She called the initial designs presented for the embassy as “looking like an industrial building. We had to have several rounds with the Americans, both with and without the ambassadors and security staff.”
In the end, the embassy building has emerged as so environmentally friendly that it exceeds the Norwegians’ standards. DeHart was proud to announce on Thursday that it has also just won a LEED Gold Certification by the Green Building Certification Institute, for its sustainability features including a restored stream and a ground source heat exchange system that will almost fully meet its heating needs.
William H Moser, acting director of the US’ Overseas Building Operations who oversaw the project, called the embassy “a physical representation of the US’ commitment to Norway,” and to the “importance of relations between our two countries.” Now the diplomats on both sides can get back down to the work of preserving them.