Interview with Jonas Gahr St?re, Foreign Minister of Norway (United Nations, October 05)

Three weeks earlier, Jens Stoltenberg had set up his coalition government in Norway. To many, it came as a surprise when Jonas Gahr St?re was appointed as Foreign Minister. This man in his early 40s has never been a professional politician, but has rather excelled in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo where he was the former head of the international department of the Prime Minister’s office. And he had worked closely with Ms. Gro Harlem Brundtland for almost a decade.
When in 1998 Ms Brundtland was elected Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO), he became one of her most trusted and closest collaborators. He was the head of the office of the Director-General, before he became chief of Cabinet under the first Jens Stoltenberg Government in 2000–2001. Later he returned as Special Advisor to Gro Harlem Brundland while she was still the Director-General of the World Health Organization in Geneva. Two years ago he was elected to become the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Red Cross, where everybody agrees on one thing—that he has done an outstanding job.
We met him in the United Nations Headquarters in New York where he had just delivered a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. He had also met with United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan. Mr St?re granted us a short but exclusive interview before he left for Washington to meet the Secretary of State, Ms Condoleezza Rice, and other American officials.
Q: First of all, let us congratulate you upon your appointment as Foreign Minister. Thank you. I have worked in this field in my previous positions. It is both exciting and meaningful.
Q: I read in the Dagbladet newspaper today that 62 percent of the Norwegian population has huge faith in you as Foreign Minister. What do you think about that?
First of all is it very agreeable and also a great responsibility
Q: What are the top priorities of Norwegian foreign policy? Is it multilateral relations?
For Norway, in order to preserve our national interests, we need to use all the multilateral channels and the different alliances available, as well as keeping our friends. It is therefore important for us to be present where we can establish contacts, to have our voice heard and to listen to other countries’ priorities. This is the “recipe” for making others listen to us and to our point of view. Therefore, supporting the United Nations is an obvious step. For us, it is an evident point in itself to support the United Nations as a place where international law and order reign, where other nations cannot act without following international law. This is an important consideration for a small country like Norway.
So being here in the UN, only two weeks after having taken up my current position, is both natural and a good opportunity.
Q: Being a former WHO staff member, are you planning to come to Geneva soon? Do you still follow what is happening in the World Health Organization?
I think I will. I have followed the evolution of the World Health Organization closely ever since I left my position there. Earlier today I met former colleagues from WHO, so I think this is a commitment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Health topics are growing in importance on the international agenda, even here in the UN. In my discussions earlier today with Mr Kofi Annan, we talked about the importance of health issues, not only health as such but also its importance in international security, development and so forth. These are some of the questions Ms Brundtland worked on when I was at WHO, and today more and more people are working on these topics. This is something I find most encouraging.
Q: What else did you discuss with Kofi Annan?
Kofi Annan knows Norway well and we know him too. We discussed many things such as international peace processes, the situation in Iraq, the reforms of the United Nations, not least about disarmament, and he was also present at the lunch on disarmament I hosted earlier today.
Thank you very much for answering these questions and the only thing I can say is “Good Luck in your endeavours”.
“Thank you very much” Mr St?re said—and away he went in the cars of the Norwegian Delegation that were waiting to take him off to Washington …
New York October 2005