While Norwegian jets were bombing Libya in 2011, Oslo's then-foreign minister Jonas Gahr Støre attempted peaceful negotiations with Muammar Gaddafi's son and opposition members. Their efforts were ultimately fruitless, as the NATO heavyweights refused to support the initiative, national broadcaster NRK reported.
According to Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway launched a secret peace effort aimed at settling differences between Muammar Gaddafi and the leaders of Western-sponsored popular uprisings, while working from Oslo and other European cities.
"It wasn't exactly a heartfelt phone conversation," Støre told NRK in describing his direct contact with Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, who was later taken prisoner and tortured by the opposition following the collapse of Gaddafi.
The negotiations continued through the spring of 2011 despite the bombing campaign. They came to a head on April 28, 2011 when Gadhafi's representatives and members of the opposition met for secret talks at a hotel in Oslo and actually managed to agree on a document that could possibly lead to a peaceful transition of power which allowed for Gaddafi to withdraw. Støre stressed that the opposition, whom he called "reliable and decent people," particularly stressed they wouldn't include anyone from the Islamic extremist groups that have subsequently grabbed power and contributed to Libya's disintegration and current status as a failed state.
However, despite Støre's admitted close contact with his US counterpart, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, neither the US nor other NATO heavyweights such as France and the UK, who all played a major role in the 2011 operation Unified Protector, supported Norway's peaceful initiatives.
"My impression is that there wasn't much at stake for them," Støre said. "It was clear that Gaddafi would fall and they looked in another direction. I think that's one of the reasons that Libya became such a big tragedy."
During the conflict, Norway, led by then-Labor leader and current NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg, dropped 588 bombs on Libya, accounting for one-tenth of NATO's combined effort. Following Gaddafi's lynching in October 2011, Libya descended into chaos and was overrun by Islamist extremists, becoming the main channel for human smugglers sending migrants to Europe.
Norway's participation in NATO's intervention has since been a perennial topic for debate in the home arena. Following the publication of the recent report that found Oslo's decision to join the fray "ill-advised," two former ministers expressed their regret over having made the decision. By contrast, Jens Stoltenberg remained firm in his belief that Norway did "the right thing."