Reflecting on his role as Norway’s ambassador to the United States, Kare R. Aas recently told a Star Tribune editorial writer that part of his job “is to convey how important it is to Minnesotans that they ‘belong’ to Norway.” That sense of belonging will only be strengthened if the U.S. Senate acts with dispatch on the nomination of a Minnesotan, Samuel Heins, to be the next U.S. ambassador to Norway.
Heins, an attorney and human-rights advocate, as well as a major donor to President Obama’s campaign, was nominated by Obama on May 13. He’s a huge improvement on Obama’s previous pick, George Tsunis, who lost support in the Senate after his incompetent confirmation testimony before the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Senate should act fast to confirm Heins, just as it should expedite votes on other diplomatic nominees. It’s diplomatically damaging to not have a U.S. ambassador to Norway, which is a staunch NATO ally, key trading partner and an important energy producer. In fact, last Wednesday marked the 600th day without a top envoy in Oslo, according to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who like her fellow Minnesota Democrat, Sen. Al Franken, is backing Heins after objecting to Tsunis.
And for good reason: Heins’ roles in establishing the Advocates for Human Rights and the Center for Victims of Torture, which both have contributed so much on a global basis, give him a unique international perspective and make him a solidly qualified candidate.
“He has so many good qualities,” Klobuchar said. “He’s someone who has done a lot of work on human rights, which is important in Scandinavia in general and Norway in particular.”
Curt Goering, executive director at the Center for Victims of Torture, concurs. “The president couldn’t have made a better choice,” Goering said. “Sam will be an excellent representative of the best of American values and represent an understanding of universal human rights, and that’s something that will resonate with Norwegians and Americans alike.”
And with Minnesotans, many of whom have Norwegian heritage and may feel that not only do they “belong” to Norway, but that Norway “belongs” here, too.