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Monday, June 24, 2024

Nordic Council face-off in Oslo

The prime ministers of all the Nordic countries are meeting in Oslo this week, and they generally get along well. They’ve had some differences, though, over how to react to Israel’s own reaction to Hamas’ terrorist attack that has set off another war in the Middle East.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (right), exchanging some words in Oslo on Tuesday with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (left) and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, prime minister of Iceland, during a break at a Nordic Council meeting at the Parliament. PHOTO: Stortinget/Morten Brakestad

The Nordic leaders all condemned Hamas’ initial attacks on October 7 but only Norway supported an immediate ceasefire in Gaza when the issue came up at the United Nations in New York last week. “We voted in favour,” Støre acknowledged when the issue came up again on Tuesday during talks with his Nordic neighbours at a Nordic Council meeting in Oslo. Norway is hosting the council’s 75th session since it holds the current presidency.

“We also voted for the Canadian formulation that stated how Israel has a right to defend itself,” Støre continued, “but the conflict is not proportional, and therefore it was important for us to to vote for a humanitarian ceasefire.” Both Støre, his foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, and even a leader of the opposition in the Norwegian Parliament have claimed that Israel is breaking the rule of law with its ongoing attacks on Gaza’s civilian population. Eide, keen to launch new peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, also said Israeli leaders were “going too far” with their attacks and efforts to block entry of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Prime ministers from all the Nordic countries are meeting in Oslo this week for the 75th session of the Nordic Council. From left: Veronica Thörnroos of Åland, Aksel Johannesen of the Faroe Islands, Ulf Kristersson of Sweden, Jonas Gahr Støre of Norway, Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland, Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, Petteri Orpo of Finland and Múte Bourup Egede of Greenland. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Ingrid Brandal Myklebust

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen noted that “we are not in disagreement over humanitarian aid to Gaza, but last Friday (a proposal at the UN) lacked a point that condemned Hamas’ terror attack on Israel.” Denmark thus voted against that proposal, she said.

Israel’s ambassador to Norway has claimed Norway is more critical towards Israel that other European countries. There also have been far more demonstrations in Oslo supporting the Palestinians than the Israelis, while local synagogues and other Israeli- or Jewish-related venues have needed extra police protection. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Tuesday that police in Oslo had called for help from other police forces around the country because of the need for extra security around both “Israeli and Palestinian objects” in the capital.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was guest speaker at the Nordic Council’s 75th session in Oslo on Tuesday, not least since nearly all members of the council are now also members of NATO. PHOTO: Stortinget/Morten Brakestad

Security was also tight in Oslo on Tuesday because of the Nordic Council session itself, which brought NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg back to his home town. Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, addressed the council from the podium inside Norway’s historic Parliament, while another pro-Palestinian demonstration carried on outside.

“We condemn Hamas’ terrorist attack,” Stoltenberg also stated, adding that “it’s important that Israel’s response to Hamas abides by the rule of law. Civilians must be protected and humanitarian help must come through to Gaza. The suffering we have seen reminds us that we can’t give up working for a peaceful solution to the conflict.”

Stoltenberg also noted how the Nordic Council hasn’t discussed security policy at prior meetings but now that’s changed. “We will all soon be members of the same defense alliance,” he said, noting how Finland has joined NATO and Sweden will soon. Security issues were due to top agendas throughout the council’s session.

“We’re living in more dangerous times,” Stoltenberg said, referring to “increased rivalry among the world’s most powerful nations, war in Europe and a new war in the Middle East. He stressed, meanwhile, that it’s important that the war on the Gaza Strip doesn’t weaken support for Ukraine: “Russia could stop the war today but Ukraine cannot. If they do that, they’ll be occupied. Occupation is not peace, and we all know that here in the Nordic region.”

Jens Stoltenberg greeting Nordic Council President Jorodd Asphjell inside Norway’s Parliament (Stortinget). On Stoltenberg’s left, the president of the Norwegian Parliament Masud Gharahkhani, and at far left, Finland’s president Petteri Orpo. Asphjell told news bureau NTB that Nordic cooperation “has become more important than it has for a long time.” PHOTO: Stortinget/Morten Brakestad

Norwegian Prime Minister Støre, acting as host of the Nordic Council’s session, stressed that it was “important to stand together.” Even though individual members had some “varying opinions” at the UN last week, Støre said “my feeling is that there are no differences among us when it comes to helping and supporting the civilians in Gaza.” The Nordic countries are also like-minded regarding support for Ukraine after it was invaded by Russia last year.

The Nordic Council session will continue until Thursday, with discussions concentrating on international conflicts, regional cooperation and climate issues. “We are worried about two wars,” Denmark’s Frederiksen said at a press conference on Tuesday, “but at the same time we must be able to handle other challenges, too.” Berglund



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