The U.S. and Norwegian government are discussing whether to extend Marine Corps rotations to Norway beyond 2017, said Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide.
"We have, so far in 2017, had a very good experience with the arrangement that we have today and we are, right now, undergoing evaluations — both militarily and also, in time, politically — as to how he will take this further," Søreide told Marine Corps Times on Wednesday.
Roughly 300 East Coast Marines have been in Norway since January on a six-month rotation as part of a pilot program. Another contingent of Marines will rotate through Norway for six months after they leave. The Norwegian government has to decide whether to approve further rotations of Marines.
"It's important to look at the experiences that we have, if it is something that is worthwhile also in the future and under what kind of framework," Søreide said in an interview after meeting Defense Secretary James Mattis earlier on Wednesday.
"We are looking into that now," she said. "I talked to Secretary Mattis about it also today, that the experiences we have so far are very good and my clear impression is that, also, the Marines are very happy with the arrangement so far."
The U.S. has not yet made a decision whether to request Marine rotations to Norway beyond 2017, said Air Force Lt. Col. David Faggard, a spokesman for U.S. European Command.
Although the contingent of Marines in Norway is relatively small, Russian officials have made hyperbolic claims about the impact of having roughly 300 hard chargers near its border.
"In effect, Washington is initiating a new arms race and is trying to impose on us a confrontational model of relations reminiscent of the Cold War," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in January.
Søreide stressed that Norway's allies have been rotating through the country for decades. Britain has conducted helicopter training in Norway since 1969, she said.
The rotation of Marines through Norway is par for the course, not an abnormality, she said.
"It's a very normal way of doing a Norwegian exercise program," she said. "It's nothing new. The Russians are very well aware of what it is and what it isn't. Of course, they are using it in their propaganda and we are countering that as best we can because this is something that is not new."
When Søreide met with Mattis on Wednesday, she told him that the Marines have had a cold winter and they've actually lost weight, according to a pool report of the meeting.