By Mick Krever, CNN
The new NATO Secretary General, Former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, emphasized his long and productive relationship with Russia in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, a day after he took office.
“As a Norwegian politician in Norway, a country bordering Russia, I have developed a working relationship with Russia,” he said. “And we were able also during the coldest period of the Cold War to work with Russia on issues like fishery, energy, environment.”
When Stoltenberg was chosen for the position earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Russian State TV that he had “very good relations, including personal relations” with the former Norwegian premier.
“This is a very serious, responsible person,” President Putin said, “but we’ll see how our relations develop with him in his new position.”
“When I was prime minister,” Stoltenberg told Amanpour, “we also were able to reach an agreement on a border line, delimitation line on the Barents Sea. And I see no contradiction between having a strong defense, a strong NATO, a predictable and firm policy, and at the same time aspiring for a more constructive relationship with Russia.”
NATO, long-thought of as a Cold War relic, suddenly appears incredibly relevant; not only because of Russia’s incursions into Ukraine, but also because of the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria – on the border of NATO-member-state Turkey – and the tenuous security situation in Afghanistan, where NATO troops are stationed.
Stoltenberg comes to the job with little concrete defense experience – but he challenged that characterization, telling Amanpour that, “It’s not possible to be prime minister in government in Norway without being engaged in defense issues.”
He also has a complicated past with NATO, having at one point in his life opposed Norway’s membership in the military alliance.
“I think that all people develop,” he said. “And I think that's a good thing.”
“The Labour Party was strongly in favor of NATO membership. But the Young Labour Party disagreed. But when I was the chairman, I was able to convince the Young Labour Party to be in favor.”
“So I think you can hardly find any other Norwegian politician who [has] fought so hard for being in favor of NATO as I did when I turned my organization from being against to be in favor.”
Stoltenberg was catapulted onto the world stage when, under his watch as prime minister on July 22, 2011, the right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in Oslo and on nearby Utoya Island.
“I've seen the sorrow, the grief, which terror attacks imposes on so many people.”
“And I've also seen the importance … of improving preparedness and readiness to fight terrorists, whatever form it occurs.”
“And then of course, the importance of standing by our values, of an open democratic society. That's what the terrorists tried to attack and that's what we have to defend.”