As Kjell Magne Bondevik was preparing for his visit to the United States for this week’s National Prayer Breakfast, he had reason to believe the trip would be seamless. After all, he is the former prime minister of Norway — a U.S. ally in NATO — and has traveled to and from the U.S. on numerous occasions.
His office contacted the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, and was told his passport and a separate electronic travel authorization would be enough for entry into the country.
But after flying into Dulles International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, he was detained and questioned for about an hour, all because of a passport stamp. His passport — which clearly stated he is the former prime minister of Norway — indicated he had taken a 2014 trip to Iran, where Bondevik said he had attended a human rights conference.
“I was surprised, and I was provoked,” he told WJLA ABC7. “What will the reputation of the U.S. be if this happens not only to me, but also to other international leaders?”
Bondevik contacted the Norwegian Embassy in Washington after he was detained, he said. A spokesman said the embassy was “happy that things were sorted out.”
He was placed in a room with travelers from the Middle East and Africa who also faced extra scrutiny, and had to wait for about 40 minutes before being questioned for about 20 minutes, he said. Officials asked him why he had been in Iran and why he was coming to the U.S., he told Norway’s TV2, according to English-language news outlet the Local.
“There should be no reason to fear a former prime minister who has been on official visits to the country several times before,” Bondevik said. “It appears that when the name of a certain country shows up, all of the antennas go up. This will create totally unnecessary suspicion.”
Bondevik said his detention was prompted not by President Trump’s recent executive order, but by a policy instated under President Barack Obama, which calls for extra restrictions on some citizens from 38 countries — including Norway — that fall under the United States’ Visa Waiver Program. Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, nationals from these 38 countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011, are not permitted to travel under the Visa Waiver Program.
These travelers can still apply for a visa using the regular appointment process at a U.S. embassy or consulate. The act also clarifies that limited exceptions exist for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of one of these 38 countries.
Still, Bondevik was shocked, he said, particularly because this was not his first visit to the U.S. since his trip to Iran in 2014. A spokesman with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency is prohibited by privacy laws from discussing specifics of any individual’s admissibility review, ABC7 reported.
“I understand the fear of terror, but one should not treat entire ethnic groups in such a way,” he said, the Local reported. “I must admit that I fear the future. There has been a lot of progress over the last ten years, but this gives great cause for concern, in line with the authoritarian leaders we see controlling other major countries.”
Bondevik, an ordained Lutheran minister, served as the Christian Democratic Party prime minister of Norway from 1997 to 2000 and from 2001 to 2005, making him Norway’s longest serving non-Socialist prime minister since World War II.
While serving his first term in office, the pressure of managing the coalition led Bondevick to fall into depression, and caused him to take a break from his duties for a few weeks in 1998. He became the first head of state to publicly leave office for mental health reasons.
Currently, Bondevik serves as the president of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights, an organization that “aims at strengthening its efforts to promote responsible leadership, in order [to] prevent conflicts and strengthen democratic practice in fragile democracies.”