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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."
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.
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."