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MINNEAPOLIS: Norway's new honorary consul

Norway's foreign minister announced in parliament Wednesday that former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale has accepted appointment as Norway's honorary consul in Minneapolis.

Norway's foreign minister announced in parliament Wednesday that former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale has accepted appointment as Norway's honorary consul in Minneapolis.

The announcement by Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store appears to confirm the foreign ministry's decision to close the consulate general office that has served Minnesota, North Dakota and several other states.

"I did not have any illusions that Norway would change its mind," Consul General Rolf Willy Hansen said Wednesday, referring to the plan to downgrade the consulate and a vigorous campaign by Norwegian Americans including Mondale to counter it.

The consulate was first established in 1906 shortly after Norway gained its independence from Sweden. (The two countries had a joint consulate in the Twin Cities starting in 1870.) The Norwegian consulate was upgraded to its current status, just below that of an embassy, shortly after World War II, during which Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany and the government was in exile in London.

"We'll do what we can to put the best possible arrangements in place to carry on the ties we have in business, education and cultural affairs," Hansen said.


"I'm delighted Mr. Mondale has accepted the appointment," he said. "His stature and experience will be a major asset for Norwegians."

Hansen said the consulate general, staffed now by several Norwegian diplomats, likely will close sometime next summer. That would leave only Canada and Mexico as nations maintaining consulates staffed by career diplomats in the Twin Cities, with about two dozen other countries represented by honorary consuls.

Mondale, 79, already has significant diplomatic credentials. The former senator from Minnesota, vice president and presidential candidate served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996.

In announcing Mondale's appointment by King Harald, Store said his "personality, unique experience and roots in the Norwegian-American community will help to further develop the longstanding and important relations and shared interests between Norway and the Midwest."

Mondale has visited Norway to explore family roots in Mundal, on the country's western coast.

The grassroots effort to persuade Norway not to close its Minneapolis consulate included a delegation of prominent Norwegian-Americans traveling to Oslo to meet with Store and other Norwegian officials. The delegation was led by Roger Moe of Erskine, Minn., former DFL majority leader in the State Senate.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota wrote to the Norwegian ambassador in Washington, D.C., in October, urging reconsideration of the closing.

"More than 800,000 Minnesota residents claim Norwegian ancestry," Pawlenty wrote.


"Throughout the many decades, the consulate in Minnesota and its cadre of dedicated staff have helped foster cultural and professional interaction for the benefit of both regions," he wrote. "Minnesotans have come to view the consulate as a symbol of Norway's official commitment to preserving and enhancing Norwegian culture and heritage in Minnesota."

Norway signaled its intent to convert the Minneapolis consulate to honorary status when the foreign ministry submitted its proposed budget to the Storting, Norway's parliament.

The budget also envisioned closing a consulate in Edinburgh, Scotland, and opening a new consulate in southern Spain, where many Norwegians live in retirement, and adding one in China, an increasingly important trade partner.

Officials in Oslo tried to close the Minneapolis consulate in 2001, also citing a need to refocus the foreign ministry's resources. Those plans were dropped after a furious letter-writing campaign by Norwegian-American interests and individuals.

When the current plan was announced in early October to downgrade the consulate to honorary status, such organizations as the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce and the Sons of Norway, both based in Minneapolis, and the Nordic Initiative in Grand Forks registered strong opposition.

"I am overwhelmed by how much people care and are concerned," Deputy Consul Geir Tonnessen said at the time.

Bruce Gjovig, of Nordic Initiative, said he was "deeply disappointed" by the decision to downgrade the consulate.

"In a knowledge economy, it is important to have exchanges and initiatives relating to higher education, science, technology, tourism, culture and trade," Gjovig said. "It is difficult for me to believe Norway could not find a half-million dollars in their budget to support the five career staff in Minneapolis."


In addition to Minnesota and North Dakota, the Minneapolis consulate now serves Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Norway also has consulates in New York, San Francisco and Houston. About 160 Norwegian companies have offices in the Houston area, most of which are connected to the oil industry.

The consular changes announced earlier this year "are necessary to assure that our resources, both politically and geographically, are used in the areas where we have the most important duties," Store said in October, according to a report in the Oslo newspaper Aftenposten.

Linda Pederson, vice consul in Minneapolis, said Wednesday that it wasn't lack of effort that kept opponents of the closing from prevailing again.

"Anywhere I've gone, everyone is asking, 'How can we make sure this doesn't happen?' " she said.

"This shows that there will always be changes in this world, and I have to believe that this change will lead to something better. The appointment of Mr. Mondale is a good step toward making sure Minnesota and the region will be taken care of in the best manner."

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