The ambassador’s very busy week
Aas’s whirlwind culminates in Minneapolis
Leslee Lane Hoyum
In the same week he flew from Washington, D.C., to Washington State to Alaska planning His Majesty King Harald’s visit later this month, Norwegian Ambassador to the United States Kåre Aas still found time to visit Minneapolis to discuss foreign policy.
At a sold-out Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce, Upper Midwest Chapter luncheon in Minneapolis, His Excellency Ambassador Aas presented Norway’s view on current international events. He prefaced his remarks by saying that the cooperation among Norwegian Americans, our delegations in Congress, and the Norwegian Embassy is excellent, and he looks forward to continued positive relations. But as we all know, 2014 was a difficult year for international politics, and 2015 looks no better. Although Ambassador Aas said it would take about a week to discuss all issues, he would touch on issues related to his country’s main objectives: to safeguard and promote Norway’s values, security, and welfare.
After the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Aas said, it was shocking to see Russia invade Ukraine, and Norway sees Russia’s action as destabilizing Ukraine and as a violation of international law. “This is not only a major security concern for Norway but to all of Europe,” said the ambassador. “Russia is our neighbor. More than 400,000 people cross the Norwegian-Russian border each year. We don’t want to break down the people-to-people contact we have; it builds confidence between our nations. Furthermore, we have had and continue to have good relations with Russia when it comes to search and rescue operations in the Barents Sea, and Norway needs Russia’s continued participation on the Arctic Council.” However, Aas said that Norway believes that Russia once again needs to show respect for international law.
“Syria once was considered a safe haven, but civil unrest has led to more than 220,000 deaths and more than 12 million people lacking basic human needs,” said Aas. “Not since World War II have so many people fled their homes as is happening in Syria. Norway supports a peaceful solution, but a solution does not appear to be forthcoming.” Norway has allocated $2.6 billion to provide Syrians with food, shelter, clothing, and other basic necessities.
ISIL and other extremist groups
The devastation wrought by extremist groups such as ISIL, al-Qaida, and Boko Haram continues to shock the world, said Aas. Norway believes that combatting them requires a broad range of political, military, and economic measures, and Norway contributes to all. One hundred twenty Norwegian military instructors have been deployed to fight ISIL at Erbil and Baghdad in Iraq. Furthermore, Norway believes that the suffering caused by radical extremists requires a massive humanitarian response to which Norway provides support in Iraq and Syria.
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum for Arctic governments. Members include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and current chair the United States. Norway actively participates to safeguard the Arctic’s security, climate, and environment, and to regulate access to previously inaccessible natural resources and trade routes.
“More than one-third of Norway’s land mass lies within the Arctic,” said Aas. “The Arctic today is the global barometer of the trends and effects of climate change and pollutants carried long distances. Fifty percent of the ice has disappeared in the Barents Sea, and the polar ice cap could disappear by 2050. We could face unpredictable and unimaginable issues.”
In conclusion, Aas said that Norway’s foreign policy rests on the fundamental values it shares with its allies and international partners. “It’s important that we prevent setbacks after decades of progress in the areas of democracy, human rights, free trade, and international cooperation.”
This article originally appeared in the May 15, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.