Neither Prime Minister Erna Solberg nor Foreign Minister Børge Brende were impressed by US President Donald Trump’s debut at the United Nations this week. Both played down Trump’s harsh words and “America First” claims, and were more impressed and reassured by the cooperation promoted by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Trump’s reference to North Korea’s provocative leader as a “Rocket Man on a suicide mission” did not, Brende told Norwegian reporters later, contribute towards making any negotiations with North Korea easier.
“We would not of course have chosen such words and don’t think anyone should contribute to escalating the situation now,” Brende said. He noted, however, that “we must not forget that it’s North Korea that has developed nuclear weapons and is shooting off missiles. Trump is under pressure in the US to show strength.”
It was also Trump’s first time to address the UN General Assembly in New York, and he may merely have wanted to make an impression, others hope. Solberg, making her fourth trip to the UN General Assembly in New York as prime minister, said much of Trump’s inflammatory speech was based on things he’s said earlier. She expressed concern that Trump’s message could “accelerate the situation” but was heartened that he also thanked other countries for taking part in efforts for a diplomatic solution.
“It was clear that he also had a message that the US will still be active in the big international conflicts, like Ukraine and the conflict in the South China Sea,” Solberg told reporters from Norwegian media gathered outside the UN headquarters. “The US still stands up for it allies. But in a world where we need a bit less rhetoric and more joint solutions, it’s super that we can move towards those solutions.”
Trump spoke harshly about not only North Korea but also Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. Norwegian officials called it “a sharp contrast” to Guterres’ call for multilateralism. “There was unease in the audience when he (Trump) said that the US wouldn’t have any other choice than to eliminate North Korea, if forced to defend either itself of its allies,” read the official foreign ministry recap of Norwegian reaction to the speech.
While Trump all but attacked Iranian officials who were sitting in the audience, and accused them of destabilizing the Middle East, Solberg had a friendly bilateral meeting with Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani during her trip to New York. She later stressed the importance of the Iran agreement and thinks it’s better to have a “good dialogue” with Iran and include the country in international negotiations instead of freezing it out.
Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO who was Solberg’s predecessor as prime minister, also stressed that it was critical that the international agreement struck with Iran regarding its own nuclear weapons be respected. “The focus now is on how the agreement will be carried out,” Stoltenberg, also in New York for the UN gathering, told newspaper Aftenposten. “Only agreements that are respected are good agreements.” Countries that were party to the agreement were meeting in New York to discuss it after Trump’s fiery speech and concerned about a possible US pullout. Brende shared those concerns and urged on radio in Norway Thursday morning against any moves by the US to jeopardize the agreement.
Stoltenberg also seemed inclined to downplay Trump’s tough talk, especially his “rocket man” slur. “For me, it’s important to work with the USA and President Trump in the international arenas where we meet them,” Stoltenberg told Aftenposten. “In NATO we have seen that we’re adjusting to a new security and politial reality. I’m glad the UN is doing the same.”