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Norway's New PM To Pull Out Of Iraq, Allow Oil Search In Barents Sea

Stoltenberg (pictured), of the Labour Party, informed US President George W. Bush of his intentions just after winning Norway's September 12 general election.

Oslo (AFP) Oct 13, 2005
Norway's incoming left-wing government will pull the country's troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and keep the lucrative but ecologically-sensitive Barents Sea open to oil drilling, it said on Thursday.

The Scandinavian country will withdraw its troops, who number fewer than 20, from Iraq, and the US-led Enduring Freedom operation in Afghanistan, but will boost its contribution to the NATO-led ISAF peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, future prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said as he presented his tripartite coalition's policy agenda.

Stoltenberg, of the Labour Party, informed US President George W. Bush of his intentions just after winning Norway's September 12 general election.

Norway's new government is due to take power on Monday, after outgoing Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik hands in his resignation to King Harald Friday.

The new coalition, which includes the Socialist Left and the Centrist Party, also plans to fulfill its campaign promises of increasing public spending on daycare, schools and care for the elderly.

"We are the first majority government in 20 years," a proud Stoltenberg told reporters.

"We are going to change Norway's politics, not just its contents but also its form," said Stoltenberg, a 46-year-old economist who served as prime minister in 2000-2001.

Stoltenberg and his two allies presented their joint program after spending several weeks holed up at an Oslo hotel for thorny negotiations.

One of the most difficult issues to resolve was that of oil production in the ecologically-sensitive Barents Sea.

The issue has major financial implications for Norway, the world's third-largest oil exporter, as oil prices remain high and oil companies, faced with depleting resources in the North Sea, are begging for access to new deposits.

The three parties reached a compromise under which most of the sea would stay open to prospecting.

They did however agree to ban any oil activities in the fish-rich waters near the Lofoten islands and the adjacent Vesteraalen zone in the Norwegian Sea during their four-year mandate, at the insistence of the Socialist Left.

One-third of Norway's oil and gas reserves are believed to be under the Barents seabed, according to official estimates.

The coalition parties also agreed to build environmentally-friendly gas power plants.

The future gas plants would not emit any carbon dioxide, and the state would be responsible for waste treatment in line with the Socialist Left's demands.

Meanwhile, Stoltenberg said his government would not lobby for Norwegian membership in the European Union given the deep divisions within his coalition on the issue.

"The time has not come" for membership, he said.

Norwegians have twice rejected the idea of joining the bloc, in referendums in 1972 and 1994, and recent opinion polls indicate public opinion is still against the idea.

Stoltenberg said Norway's development aid, already among the most generous in the world, would reach the goal of one percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The government also plans to lobby for same-sex couples to be granted the same rights as heterosexuals, including the possibility of marriage and adoption.

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Iraqi Security Forces Improving
Washington (UPI) Oct 13, 2005
The Pentagon's latest assessment of Iraq's nascent security forces says there are over 200,000 Iraqis trained and equipped to fight, according to U.S. officials and documents.

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