Prime Minister Erna Solberg was braced for what may come in her meeting in Washington DC on Wednesday with US President Donald Trump. She’s been advised to both flatter him and have a map of Norway with her, to show him her country’s strategic position in the Arctic that borders on Russia, while she claims she’ll just be herself and meet him with patience and respect.
Solberg was warned as late as Tuesday, just before flying off to Washington, not to expect that Trump even knows where Norway is on the map, nor that he had read up on her country. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Wednesday how three former advisers to former US President Barack Obama, speaking at the annual meeting of Norway’s national employers’ organization NHO, both joked and spoke seriously to their audience that included members of Solberg’s government, business leaders and Crown Prince Haakon.
Most national leaders, claimed ex-White House staffer Tommy Vietor, have discovered that they don’t need to give Trump anything of value. The only thing they need to do is praise him, which is what Saudi Arabian leaders did. “They made him feel special and important,” said Vietor, who now runs the political podcast “Pod Save America” with two former colleagues. That resulted in the best meeting ever for the bilateral relation between Saudi Arabia and the US.
Vietor added that he wouldn’t expect that Trump knows where Norway is situated in the world, while colleague Jon Favreau didn’t expect Trump would “read up on Norway before the meeting, like other presidents would have done.” Several others seem to agree. Norway’s former foreign minister and current head of the Labour Party, Jonas Gahr Støre, had advised Solberg to have a map with her to show Trump not only Norway’s geographic location in the Arctic but also to stress its border with Russia and, with melting ice opening up new Arctic shipping routes, much closer proximity to China.
The three Americans offering their humorous briefing of the situation in their homeland were well-briefed themselves on the situation in Norway, with its strong and recovering economy, stable democracy and generally happy citizens. They all but scoffed over what NHO and many other Norwegian leaders view as problems, such as the need for job creation when unemployment is running around 4 percent.
“How can you dare to call that a problem?” they challenged their audience. “You have a welfare system. You have a conference about clouds on the horizon. The USA is covered by clouds. You have a prince. We have Donald Trump Jr.”
Solberg, who had delivered an opening address at NHO’s large annual meeting that gathers many of Norway’s most powerful people, is well aware of how relatively fortunate she is as prime minister of a country that’s regularly ranked as the best in the world in which to live. She’s also known for a near uncanny sense of calm and for being anything but vain, as illustrated when she once posed willingly after a factory tour in workers’ overalls that were too small for her ample frame, and seemingly not caring at all how she looked. The most important thing for her was to be out there, mingling with other workers.
Even though Solberg is a conservative like Trump, “there’s not a single western politician who deviates more in style and substance from Erna Solberg than Donald Trump,” wrote Harald Stanghelle, political editor of newspaper Aftenposten, in a commentary on Wednesday prior to Solberg’s meeting with Trump. Stanghelle quoted the former conservative foreign minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt, who told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Trump “has made the USA more difficult to understand and deal with,” and become a “destabilizing factor.” Solberg represents and promotes stability, but won’t be pointing fingers at Trump, Stanghelle wrote, arguing that wouldn’t do any good at all.
Instead she’s expected to show Norway’s respect for the president of its most important ally, and hope that he sees the US’ own interests being served by guaranteeing that alliance. The two are due to discuss defense and security challenges in the Arctic, and the Norwegian delegation hopes Trump will listen. The former White House advisers recommended that it could be important for Solberg to repeat her most important messages three times, to make sure she had Trump’s attention.
Solberg is also prepared to show Trump what Norway can do for the US, with facts and figures ready, for example, on trade and defense. Both she and Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide will jointly meet with Trump and his top defense and foreign policy leaders as well.
When their session is over (Wednesday evening in Norway), the two are expected to stress areas where they agreed instead of disagreed. Solberg has promised to take up the importance of the Paris Climate agreement that Trump wants to dump, and how important the US has been been as a leader on climate issues. Hilmar Mjelde of the University of Bergen, who recently has been a guest researcher at Stanford University in California, suggested that Norway must stress the “importance of American leadership” regarding the climate. That may, at least, flatter Trump.
Solberg herself appeared calm, cool and collected as she headed for Washington, noting that although she disagrees with Trump in many areas, “our two countries have widespread cooperation … We are close allies and I look forward to a useful meeting.” Trump reportedly only had three items on his agenda for Wednesday: A daily briefing with intelligence officials at 11am, the meeting with Solberg at 2pm and production of a video with communications chief Hope Hicks at 4pm. The website Axios that follows Trump’s program closely reported that the rest of his day was devoted to “Executive Time,” when he’s mostly in the White House’s living quarters watching TV, tweeting and making phone calls.
Solberg, meanwhile, was prepped to expect the unexpected. “She must be prepared for anything between heaven and earth,” Petter Schjerven, an expert on body language, told NRK’s Saturday radio program Ukeslutt. “I have thought I’ll just be Erna Solberg as I always am,” Solberg told NRK on Sunday. “Folks are folks.”