OSLO (Reuters) - Norway will allow U.S. troops to be stationed on its soil for a limited period from next year, the defense ministry said on Monday, the first time foreign troops have been posted on its territory since the end of World War Two.
Some 330 U.S. Marines will be stationed at the Vaernes military base in central Norway from January, the ministry said in a statement, adding that the trial would be reviewed in the course of the year.
Norway is a founding member of the U.S.-led NATO alliance and a close U.S. political ally. NATO troops have long come to the Nordic country to take part in military exercise but have not been stationed on Norwegian territory.
"The United States are our most important ally and we have a near bilateral relationship that we wish to develop," Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said in a statement.
"The defense of Norway is dependent on allied reinforcement and it is crucial for Norwegian security that our allies get the knowledge required to operate in Norway, together with Norwegian forces," said Soereide who has expressed concern about Russian military activity since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Norway shares a border with Russia in the Arctic.
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The move stirred criticism from parts of the opposition.
"This is not a good signal to send. We face a cold political climate that requires predictability from Norway," Audun Lysbakken, the leader of the small opposition Socialist Left party, told public broadcaster NRK.
"We should rather reinforce our national defense and not aim for some form of permanent presence by U.S. troops," he said.
Soereide did not specifically mention a Russian military threat on Monday. In a 2014 interview with Reuters, she said Russia's annexation of Ukraine showed that it had the ability and will to use military means to achieve political goals.
The last time foreign troops were stationed in the Nordic country was when Russian Red Army soldiers were stationed in northern Norway after driving out German forces, which had occupied Norway between 1940 and 1945.
(Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Stine Jacobsen, writing by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Richard Balmforth)