Europe News

Norway considering whether to ask US to extend Marines' presence

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway’s foreign minister said her government was discussing whether to ask Washington to extend the stay of U.S. Marines in the country, a presence that has irked neighbouring Russia.

Some 330 Marines are scheduled to stay until the end of 2018 after an initial contingent arrived in January 2017, the first foreign troops to be stationed in the NATO member state since the end of World War Two.

“We are currently in a phase where we are discussing different options, but I think from our point of view it has been very useful and very successful,” Ine Eriksen Soereide told Reuters in an interview.

“The Americans have been very happy with how things have played out. They do see after many years where they had a lack of winter training and expertise of wintry conditions ... they are now, to a larger extent, able to deal with the cold.”

The minister reiterated that Oslo did not see Moscow as a military threat and that the threat of war in the Arctic, NATO’s northern flank, was “low”.

But she said Oslo saw challenges in the way Russia was developing, not only militarily but also in the areas of civil society, the rule of law and democracy.

An initial posting of U.S. Marines ran for six months from the start of 2017, and was extended last June. The Russian embassy in Oslo told Reuters then the extension would worsen relations with Moscow and could escalate tensions on NATO’s northern flank.

(This version of the story changes final para to make clear embassy statement was last June, in reaction to previous extension)

Editing by Andrew Roche