Norwegian prime minister says Europe is on alert about Russian interference

President Donald Trump, right, meets with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Wednesday in the Oval Office at the White House. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford)
President Donald Trump, right, meets with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Wednesday in the Oval Office at the White House. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford)

WASHINGTON — Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who calls her country the West’s “eyes and ears” on Russia’s northern border, said Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has put European democracies on alert for future meddling.

“The discussion you’ve had in the United States has, of course, lifted this issue in all European countries,” Solberg said Wednesday in an interview with the Washington Post. “Every country has to deal with it their own way. It’s also about making your political system resilient enough against these types of threats.”

Solberg visited Washington on Wednesday for meetings with Trump and top administration officials. She described the United States as Norway’s most important ally and came with a mission to strengthen the security and economic partnerships between the two countries. Norway, for instance, purchases much of its military equipment from U.S. manufacturers like Boeing.

The prime minister was careful not to personally criticize Trump, though she acknowledged some of their differences. On climate policy, she said she, along with the leaders of other Nordic nations, urged Trump to reverse his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, of which nearly every country is a party.

Reminded that Trump has publicly doubted the science behind global warming, Solberg said, “We believe that the science is proof.”

Later, in a joint news conference, Solberg said, “Norway’s combating climate change. It’s an important issue for us. And we are committed to the Paris agreement.”

Trump criticized the Paris deal as “very unfair to the United States,” and noted, “I am for massive oil and gas and everything else.”

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In the interview, Solberg added that Norway, despite being a major oil producer and using its fossil fuel reserves to amass extraordinary wealth, is working to curb its carbon and gas emissions. About 50 percent of new cars in Norway are electric vehicles — about 4 percent of them Teslas — thanks to a government policy exempting electric cars from taxes.

“It’s not because all Norwegians are rich,” she said in the interview. “It’s because we are not taxing. People will buy a good electrical car instead of buying a fossil-fuel one, and you get a much better standard of car.”

Both Trump and Solberg each said at the news conference that they see benefits for their countries in working with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election to help Trump.

Solberg said in the interview that there was no evidence that Russia had interfered in Norway’s recent elections. She explained that Norwegian elections are often driven by domestic issues and that because there is a consensus on foreign affairs, there is little that another country could gain if it tried to interfere.

“It might be that we are too uninteresting, which, of course, is a blow to the Norwegian esteem,” she quipped.

Solberg said there is a special obligation for news organizations to guard against foreign meddling and to question the authenticity of the information they report.

“We must fight for liberal ideas like openness, but also about having a media that we believe in and that can sort between real news and facts and not so factual things,” Solberg said.

When it was pointed out that Trump often blurs the line between fact and fiction, Solberg declined to criticize him and kept her focus on the media. “It’s about newspapers questioning where did this story really come from instead of jumping up and saying, ‘Oh, I have something that’s secret, let me print it,’ “ she said.

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Solberg sat for the interview at the Norwegian ambassador’s residence, shortly before heading to the White House for her visit with Trump.

She talked about her role in Norway as a champion for women in public life. Roughly half of her Cabinet members are female, including most of the highest-profile ministers, and she said women bring different and often more empathetic perspectives to government.

Asked what she hoped her women’s empowerment agenda might signal to Trump — who has a well-documented history of demeaning comments about women, who has more than a dozen allegations against him of sexual harassment and assault and whose Cabinet is overwhelmingly male — Solberg identified a silver lining.

“Yes, he has had some remarks in the election campaign that I didn’t like,” she said. “But on the other hand, what I have heard is in his business he has just been looking for talent” regardless of gender.

Told that the U.S. delegation she would soon face at the White House in her bilateral meeting almost certainly would be male-heavy, Solberg said that is a common experience for her and something she jokes about with foreign counterparts.

“I usually have quite a lot of women, and they on the other side have a lot of men,” she said. “It’s quite a lot of countries, to be honest.”

Solberg has met Trump before, including last May in Brussels, when both leaders attended the opening ceremony of the new NATO headquarters. (Both countries are NATO members.) That is where Trump drew flack for his combative speech in which he would not reaffirm the United States’ commitment to Article 5, the NATO treaty commitment that an attack on a single alliance nation is an attack on all of them.

Still, Solberg said she believed the United States would defend Norway if, hypothetically, it were to be attacked by Russia.

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“They are fully committed to this,” Solberg said of the Trump administration, referring to reassurances she has received from senior officials. “Sometimes maybe we should not just follow which word is not said because I think we all have this strong feeling that the security policies of this administration are following the broad lines of former administrations.”

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