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Obama under fire after appointing major donor as Norway envoy

Credit: Daniel Sannum Lauten / AFP – Getty Images file

Siv Jensen, Minister of Finance since 2013 and the leader of the Progress Party, walks with Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Oct. 16 in Oslo, Norway.


President Barack Obama has upset members of ally Norway’s government after his pick for ambassador appeared to criticize one of its ruling parties and displayed little knowledge of the country.

Long Island property millionaire George Tsunis told his Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 16 that one of Norway’s ruling parties was made up of "fringe elements" who "spew their hatred." He also referred to the country’s "president," even though Norway is a constitutional monarchy with a king and prime minister.

"This man was so far out that I did not know whether to laugh or cry," said Jan Arild Ellingsen, spokesman for the Progress Party, which Tsunis described as fringe. "[Obama] should apologize to the Norwegian people, not just the politicians, because you do not just send someone out who has no idea. You do not treat countries that way."

"Obama must apologize for this nomination," he added. 

Norway is governed by a center-right coalition made up of the Conservative Party and smaller Progress Party. 

A spokesman for Norway's foreign ministry said it would not be appropriate to comment on the remarks by Tsunis, who is Obama's pick for ambassador but is yet to be officially nominated.

The U.S. State Department was not immediately available for comment. 

The rising importance of money in U.S. politics has seen administrations appoint more big donors to ambassadorial posts, especially in countries friendly to the U.S.

Tsunis donated $50,000 to John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, before switching sides and donating $988,550 for Obama’s 2012 campaign, according figure from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Tsunis told the hearing that Norway had been “very quick to denounce” the "fringe" anti-immigration Progress Party, before he was cut off by a baffled Sen. John McCain.

"The government has denounced them? They are part of a coalition in the government,” McCain said, before adding wryly: "I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group on nominees."

Related: Two years after Breivik's massacre Norway's anti-immigration party verges on election success