Despite a recent rash of serious and unusually public disagreements, Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide claims that Norway’s relations with its “closest ally” have not been weakened. The fact she even felt a need to defend the bilateral relation between Norway and the US illustrates, however, just how difficult things have become.
“We can deeply disagree on individual issues, but that doesn’t mean our bilateral relation has become weaker,” Søreide told news bureau NTB after a meeting with the new US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington DC this week. Søreide was also in Washington just five months ago to meet Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson. He was fired shortly thereafter by the unpredictable US President Donald Trump, so Søreide needs to develop new relations with Pompeo.
Both smiled for cameras at the meeting but took no questions and hardly said a word beyond posing, shaking hands and then disappearing behind closed doors. Søreide stressed afterwards, though, that “we cooperate very closely and well in very many areas,” and repeated earlier claims that “the US is our closest ally, with whom we can be open and direct.”
All the disagreements of late, along with some blatant political outrage in Norway over how the Trump administration has separated illegal immigrants from their children, “does not weaken the relation to the USA,” Søreide claimed. “We must remember our history. We have cooperated bilaterally with the US through changing presidents and presidential terms, and regardless of who has been in the government in Norway.”
There’s no question, however, that the US government under Trump has conducted itself in a manner that’s entirely at odds with Norway’s long-term approach and attitudes to international issues. While Norway always promotes broad international cooperation and strongly supports international organizations like the UN and international agreements on everything from trade to climate, Trump is pulling the US out of one deal after another. Norway has been officially “disappointed” and critical over Trump’s decisions to pull out of the UN’s climate agreement struck in Paris, to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to pull out of trade agreements and then impose high tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, the latter allegedly in the name of national security. Søreide herself went on record as saying that “national security as an excuse for protectionism is not constructive.”
In a recent meeting with foreign correspondents in Oslo, Søreide stressed that she and her government colleagues chose to look at what the Americans are actually doing as opposed to what Trump is saying, not least through his incessant “tweets” on social media. That approach seemed to provide the Norwegian government with some assurance that many aspects of the bilateral relation had not changed. Then came the pictures of what the Americans were doing to illegal immigrant children and their parents.
Søreide nonetheless continues to insist that none of this will damage relations in general. “It’s not difficult at all to take up these issues (with the Americans),” she told NTB. “The US is very well aware of our standpoint, also on the embassy in Israel, trade, the Iran deal and the Paris (climate) agreement.”
It’s also not the first time relations between the US and Norway have been put to the test. The Norwegian government, fellow military allies with the US through NATO, flatly refused to support or take part in former US President George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. “Claims that the bilateral relation was damaged forever proved to be untrue,” Søreide said. “We have a very solid, fundamental relation and a mutual interest in working together to resolve challenges.”