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Norway's subsequent facilitation efforts in Guatemala, the Philippines and elsewhere all flowed from that initial success in the Middle East. A high level of Norwegian involvement in international aid efforts more than 1% of the population has served in U.N. peacekeeping missions fostered the trend. "We never actively seek opportunities for involving ourselves in peace processes," says Norwegian State Secretary Vidar Helgesen, "but we've made something of a name in peace and reconciliation, and some governments have approached us directly, asking us to take on such a role."
Even as the Oslo accord has splintered, Norway has remained involved in the Middle East. Terje Roed Larsen, the U.N.'s special coordinator for the region, and his wife Mona Juul, Norway's ambassador to Israel, were instrumental figures behind the 1993 Oslo accord. As conflict escalated, the Norwegian mission in Ramallah provided one of the few venues for dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian representatives. "We are continuously in contact with both parties, our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister are on the line with Sharon, Arafat and Peres," says Helgesen.
And just as the initial stages of the Oslo negotiations were secret, so too are some of Norway's current diplomatic efforts. "We have a wide range of activities that could lead to political steps being taken," says Helgesen. "One of the secrets is that we are patient, and regardless of which government you have in Norway, there is a consensus about the importance of offering our services." The conservative-led government that took office in October has not altered Norway's international commitments.
Aside from patience, Norwegians seem to have a gift for tact. When they first got involved in Sri Lanka, says Southeast Asia expert Sumit Ganguly, "they kept the Indians informed, so as not to step on the toes of regional powers." Objections to Norwegian involvement from Buddhist monks and the left-wing JVP party are based more on opposition to any external interference than to Norway itself. The Nordic nation poses little threat to regional powers, and its generosity is not limited to aid money. The U.S. accepted Norway's Middle East role, says Waage, in part because "it could share in the credit, which wouldn't have been the case if France had been negotiating."
Since its independence from Sweden in 1905, Norway has moved in the world with a carefully calibrated mix of independence and alignment. Voters have opted twice not to join the E.U., and polls show that public opposition to membership remains strong. Yet Norway was one of the founding members of nato, and as the only alliance member to share a border with the Soviet Union, it enjoyed a special importance during the cold war. Since the Soviet breakup, Norway's stature as a mediator has become its main claim to prominence. "Because we're not in the E.U., we need to get access to important players in other ways," says Helgesen, who is leading Norway's Sri Lankan effort. "Our role in Sri Lanka, for example, is interesting for the Indians, the Australians, the Japanese and the Canadians, because they have a large Tamil population."
Most tiny countries are content to stay removed from the global cacophony. A few ensure that their voices are heard by being boisterous and bellicose. But Norway, with its varied feats of international diplomacy, has taken a unique and welcome course becoming a powerful clarion for peace.