US, Norway engage in verbal duel over missiles
Norway, which shares a border with the Soviet Union, has reopened debate over its support for the scheduled deployment of American missiles in five other NATO nations.
And the US ambassador to Norway has found himself in the thick of it.
The opposition Labor Party announced last week that it was reconsidering its earlier support for the stationing of the missiles. The party proposed instead that the deployment be deferred, pending an outcome of the Geneva arms negotiations. The Labor Party also announced it opposes any spending for the NATO missile sites, a move which could delay the deployment planned for later this year.
This new stand puts pressure on the ruling Conservative and Center coalition to withdraw support for deployment of the cruise and Pershing II missiles.
The shift in position triggered an angry exchange between US Ambassador to Norway Mark Austad, and Labor leader and former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who charged the US with ''meddling.''
In forceful comments after presentation of the new party platform, Mrs. Brundtland emphasized the changed circumstances: While her party had shared former President Carter's commitment to the disarmament negotiations, she said, ''none of us has been convinced about Reagan's.''
Mr. Austad publicly defended the personal integrity of the President and reaffirmed the US proposals to eliminate Soviet and US intermediate-range missiles in Europe.
This ''open intervention'' by Ambassador Austad was widely resented, even among Mrs. Brundtland's political opponents, because it focused attention on the US ''interference'' and diverted attention from the missile issue.
In an interview, Mrs. Brundtland denied she had reversed her policy or that she doubted the President's integrity. Rather, she said, the political environment had changed radically. She said her party's previous acquiescence in accepting the missiles was predicated upon the concept of ''balanced reductions'' as objectives of the disarmament talks. US insistence on stationing of the new missiles, Mrs. Brundtland argued, is incompatible with those objectives.
She said that this modest realignment in her position emphasizing deferral and not rejection of the missiles, was designed to forestall more radical proposals from the extreme wing of her party to repudiate the missiles completely. The attack by Mr. Austad may have cemented her party around this more moderate position.