UPDATED: Prime Minister Erna Solberg was smiling before, during and after her meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. Trump, who hailed the “determination and confidence” that characterizes Norwegian-American relations, seemed most keen to talk about trade, and Solberg characterized him as “a normal man with a sense of humour.”
Money talks, and it’s something Trump respects. Norway has a lot of money, and that had likely caught his attention even before he read aloud from his prepared remarks at a press conference following his hour-long meeting with Solberg. Commentators noted that Trump seemed better prepared than they’d expected and someone in the White House had spent time researching the history of relations between Norway and the US, from Viking times through World War II and beyond.
Solberg’s visit came just days after publication of a controversial book about the inner workings of the White House that infuriated Trump and sparked public debate over the state of his mental health. Much of the debate is also tied to the constant messages he publishes on Twitter, in which he often blasts opponents and calls them names. He had referred to the veteran Democratic senator from California as “Sneaky Dianne Feinstein” just hours before Solberg arrived.
The Norwegian prime minister found Trump to be on his best hehaviour, though. “He wanted to be nice and friendly,” Solberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after the meeting. “I didn’t get any other impression than that it was a normal man with a sense of humour whom I was meeting.” Geir Lundestad, the former head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo and professor specializing in American politics, commented that “it was a disciplined edition of the American president” who met Solberg.
“He was clearly interested to learn more about Norway, and other country’s politics,” said Solberg, who also met US Vice President Mike Pence and Foreign Minister Rex Tillerson on Wednesday. Her staff and other Norwegian officials called the entire event a “great success,” and were pleased that it covered all three areas they’d wanted to discuss: security policy, trade and the climate.
Praise for Norway
Trump praised Norway’s military contributions and participation in NATO, along with its involvement in Afghanistan and the fight against terror group IS. It was business and trade, though, that he kept coming back to at their joint press conference after the meeting. Solberg said she also tried to appeal to his business sense when she tried to get him to reconsider his opposition to the UN’s climate agreement struck in Paris. She stressed that climate policy can create business opportunities as she promoted climate issues and urged him to keep the US in the Paris Agreement.
He called Norway “a good customer, ally and friend” before the two began their meeting, referring in some detail to Norway’s largest-ever purchase of US-made F35 fighter jets. He was proud of the US’ trade surplus with Norway, calling it “shocking” because the US “doesn’t have so many” trade surpluses with other countries.
He also noted, though, how Norway “also invests about a third of its sovereign wealth fund (known as the Oil Fund) in American businesses, supporting hundreds of thousands of American jobs.” The Norwegians, Trump said “are very big investors in our stock market,” and he seemed to take credit for how well stock investments have done in the current bull market. “The prime minister thanked me very much,” he said, turning to Solberg and saying, “you’ve done very well with your investments in the United States, right?”
Solberg grabbed the opportunity to note how Norwegians also buy a lot of the US-produced Tesla electric cars. “Norway contributes a lot to the American economy, not least by buying Teslas,” she said, as Trump nodded. She’d made a point in their meeting of stressing how Norway supports the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate, and how climate investments can amount to good business. Tesla’s electric cars, which enjoy many tax incentives in Norway, are a prime example, in Solberg’s view.
Climate is an area where the two leaders disagree, and Trump claimed it wasn’t a major theme during their hour of talks. The Paris Agreement, from which he wants to withdraw, “was very unfair to the United States,” he said at the press conference with Solberg, and punished the country because of its oil, gas and coal industries. “It made it difficult for us to do business,” he said, claiming that China and Russia had much better terms. “We could conceivably go back in,” he said, without elaborating, but he still thinks it’s a bad deal.
Solberg responded that Norway also faces strict regulations under the terms of the Paris pact, not least because of its own large oil and gas industry, and that it won’t be easy for Norway to reach its emissions reduction goals. But she said she doesn’t think Norway will lose good opportunities for business by setting good climate standards, a remark that Norwegian commentators interpreted as a subtle jab at Trump’s position. Solberg said Norway views its restructuring efforts to create a new green economy as a means of providing strong opportunities in the future.
The two seemed to get along, though, with Trump thanking the prime minister and the Norwegian people several times for Norway’s contributions to NATO, the war on terrorism and the economy. He called the economies of both the US and Norway “robust and growing,” and thanked Norway for its “commitment to fair and reciprocal trade,” stressing the word “reciprocal” because “it benefits us all. Free nations are stronger when trade is fair.”
Solberg said she “had assured President Trump that Norway remains an ally and a friend that you can count on in the future.” They touched on tensions with Russia as well. While Solberg was firm on retaining sanctions against Russia as punishment for annexing Crimea and intervening in Ukraine, they both stressed the importance of also working with Russia. “I think we can do both things,” Solberg said, in maintaining a united allied front on sanctions while also cooperating with Russia on issues related to the border Norway and Russia share in the Arctic.