21 March 2003


Norway speaks with forked tongue (Dagsavisen)

The Norwegian government does not speak with one voice on the Iraq issue. Political commentators maintain that Foreign Minister Jan Petersen (Con) and Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik (Chr.Dem) cannot hide their differences with regard to the conflict. Even the PM’s party colleague, Janne Haaland Matlary, State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry, says that Mr Bondevik and Mr Petersen appear to be at odds in their response to the Iraq issue. “They are not completely in accord, but would never admit it. Mr Bondevik says that there is no clear legal mandate for the war, and that Norway is not a party to it. The logical implication is that the USA has done something wrong. But on that issue he is hazy,” said Ms Haaland Matlary. She believes that Mr Bondevik puts compliance with international law before any other foreign policy consideration. She also feels that Norway should be more sharply critical of the USA, Britain and Spain for choosing to break with the UN Security Council and act independently. “Jan Petersen has not done so, but Mr Bondevik has – to a certain extent,” said Ms Haaland Matlary.

3,000 protesters in Oslo (Aftenposten)

“Stop the war now!” chanted the crowd gathered ,in the centre of Oslo to protest against the US-led attack on Iraq. The demonstration was organized by the Peace Initiative No War against Iraq. Led by Erling Borgen and Petter Nome, Agnethe Haaland and the hip-hop group Gatas Parlament the crowd marched from the Norwegian parliament building, the Storting, to the American Embassy, dubbed “the American Bunker” by Erling Borgen in his address to the crowd. “It is fantastic to see that so many people have turned out to protest against the USA’s barbarity. This day will be remembered as the day the USA showed its total disregard for the world. We represent 180 organizations who are disappointed, incensed and shocked by the fact that the USA has unleashed its war machine,” he said.

Krekar arrest prompted by fears he would flee the country (Aftenposten)

Last night, officials from the National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime were being sparing with the details regarding the reasons for Mullah Krekar’s arrest. “The arrest is linked to media speculation that he would be arrested. As a result, we felt there was a risk that he would attempt to evade capture,” said Erling Grimstad of the National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime. “If he left Norway, he could avoid prosecution. We would therefore like a court to decide if there are grounds for remanding Krekar in custody,” said Mr Grimstad. Earlier this week, Mullah Krekar appeared on Dutch television where he threatened that the organization Ansar al-Islam would launch suicide attacks on American soldiers in the event of a war. Mr Grimstad confirmed that this interview was one of the factors which prompted Krekar’s arrest.

Siv Jensen fears Swedish takeover (Dagens Næringsliv)

The Progress Party’s Siv Jensen is afraid that the Norwegian system for buying and selling financial instruments could be hijacked by Swedish interests. Ms Jensen, who chairs the Storting’s Finance Committee, has now called on Norwegian investors to ensure that the Oslo Stock Exchange, the NOS (a clearing house for financial instruments) and the Norwegian Registry of Securities (VPS) remain in Norwegian hands. Ms Jensen has heard rumours of a Swedish plan to take control of the entire value chain for the trading of shares and other financial instruments in Norway. “This worries me. We need a sensible Norwegian ownership structure with regard to securities trading. A system controlled from Stockholm would limit Norwegian freedom of action, expertise and jobs,” she said.

Travel industry hit by war fears (Aftenposten)

While Statoil, Norsk Hydro and Telenor have imposed a travel ban on their employees, several hundred travel industry employees face temporary layoffs after the outbreak of war in Iraq. Members of the immigrant community are also afraid to fly back to their home countries. Originally from Iran, Ahmad Sheibany now works at International Tours in Oslo. “We just hope that the war will be over quickly,” he said “People are not travelling now. It is very quiet here. On the whole, the only people calling us are customers who want to cancel their bookings.”

1. Worth Noting

  • Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has lost his lustre. Voters would rather have Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg or Socialist Left Party leader Kristin Halvorsen as Prime Minister. 23 per cent of those questioned said that Mr Stoltenberg was the politician most suited to be Prime Minister, while Ms Halvorsen came in a close second with 18 per cent. Only 11 per cent said Mr Bondevik was their favourite, while a measly six per cent would like Conservative Party leader Jan Petersen to be Prime Minister.

  • Bjørn Hærnes, the Conservative Party’s defence policy spokesman, is furious over what he calls the Church’s politicians. Bishop Rosemarie Køhn is accused of defiling the flag, Bishop Gunnar Stålsett of preventing alternative views from being expressed within the church arena, and the Church of Norway in general of being too involved in politics. Mr Hærnes’s fury has been prompted by church leaders’ active participation in the debate over war in Iraq. Bishop Stålsett responded by saying that Bjørn Hærnes’s personal attack was beneath his notice.

  • Norwegian companies hope to win major reconstruction contracts in Iraq after its defeat by the US. The companies have extensive experience of working in other war-torn countries, and believe that this experience will give them a competitive edge when the time comes to rebuild Iraq.

2. Today’s comment from Dagens Næringsliv

The war against Iraq has started and Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik is refusing to back the attack because it does not have the support of the UN Security Council. But he is also refusing to declare the war a violation of international law. He is worried because the war could weaken the UN, though perhaps not in the long term. Mr Bondevik’s comments appear hazy because they are hazy. It is a position the PM has every right to take. To be “in favour of the UN” must be one of the least controversial foreign policy stances anyone can take in Norway. The UN is far from perfect, and far from democratic. Nevertheless, the most important reason to support the United Nations is pragmatic. We do not have anything better, and despite its imperfections, a lot of good work is done under the auspices of the UN. The UN has probably been weakened because the USA has embarked on a war without the approval of the Security Council. But the organization would perhaps have been even more enfeebled if its approval had been obtained as a result of US pressure and bribery. This affair has first and foremost been a demonstration of the UN’s limitations. The Iraq conflict has finally laid to rest the dream many cherished of a new role for the organization after the end of the cold war. Supporting the UN will probably be necessary in most circumstances, but is far from enough if a rational and humanitarian foreign policy is to be pursued in the 21st century.