Helsingin Sanomat on Halonen's trip to New York

President Tarja Halonen is traveling to New York this Wednesday. The five day trip is built around annual gala dinner of the American Scandinavian Foundation which she will attend on Friday, but it will also include, among other things, a meeting with United Nations secretary Ban Ki-Moon. Apparently the foundation always invites one Scandinavian head of state to attend the gala dinner, but since this year no proper Scandinavians were available, they had to make do with a Finn.

It seems like a perfectly boring little trip, but today leading broadsheet Helsingin Sanomat breathlessly reports that US President George W Bush has turned down our dear leader's offer to meet with him for - get this - scheduling reasons. Do you feel your pulse quickening? You should. "Scheduling problems are routinely invoked in international diplomacy to turn down a proposed meeting," the article hints at darker reasons that lurk beneath the surface. It is also sure to include the fact that Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt managed to schedule some face time with Bush.

Helsingin Sanomat has deep and abiding interest in the frequency of meetings between Finnish and American presidents and assorted ministers. My theory is that it's tied to the paper's open support for NATO membership. It painstakingly highlights every little snub - real or imagined - because it wants to demonstrate a need to improve relations. Its preferred way to improve relations, to get a seat at the table, is of course to apply for NATO membership. I hope I'm wrong, because having your news section serve your editorial line in that manner is a bit shabby, but the paper's behavior is quite difficult to explain otherwise.

Speaking of NATO, according to a poll released today (fi), 63 percent of Finns oppose membership and 27 percent support it. Of the major parties, Centre Party supporters are opposed 69-23 and Social Democratic Party supporters 73-20. Left Alliance and Green League supporters oppose it in even greater numbers. National Coalition Party supporters are a clear outlier; they're 55-39 in favor of membership. 78 percent think that membership should require a referendum. The previous poll, from last November, indicated a 59-24 split so the parliamentary election and the Estonian statue controversy have not caused any major changes in the figures.

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