News24

Oslo ready for 'war president'

2009-12-10 07:38

Oslo - "War president" Barack Obama was due on Thursday to accept his controversial Nobel Peace Prize here amid Norway's biggest ever police security operation.

Two military choppers circled above the hotel where Obama will stay while others flew over the city centre as part of an operation costing the government around $16m - more than 10 times the prize money awarded to the Peace Prize laureate.

Barricades were placed along the sidewalks of Oslo's main avenues, between 2 000 and 2 500 police officers have been mobilised, the Schengen-member country reinstated border controls and anti-aircraft missiles were deployed near the airport and around Oslo to ensure the president's security.

The beefed-up protection was however not necessarily reflective of support for the choice of Obama as the 2009 Peace Prize laureate.

A controversial choice as soon as it was announced on October 9 because of US engagement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama's decision to send an additional 30 000 troops to Afghanistan, announced only nine days before Thursday's Nobel prize ceremony, raised eyebrows further.

Obama will dwell on the sombre paradox of waging war in Afghanistan even as he is lauded as a man of peace when he accepts his prize, White House director of speechwriting Jon Favreau told AFP.

After less than a year in power, with few defining foreign policy wins and with his once soaring popularity fading at home, Obama faces a sensitive political assignment during a day of solemn ceremonies in Oslo.

Favreau said Obama would speak solemnly about the odd coincidence of accepting the revered prize a week after ordering 30 000 troops to Afghanistan in a major war escalation.

"The president is receiving a peace prize as the commander-in-chief of a nation that is in two wars," acknowledged Favreau, one of two White House speechwriters working on the text with Obama.

With many critics suggesting that Obama's resume is too thin to stand scrutiny with other Nobel peace laureates, the president will also seek to deflect attention from himself, aides said.

"He sees this as less of a recognition of his own accomplishments, and more of an affirmation of a desire for American leadership in the 21st century," Favreau said.

No potentially embarrassing questions

Geir Lundestad, secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told public radio NRK this week that most US presidents face conflicts and wars - but the new mood in US foreign policy justified Obama's elevation.

Obama will be in Oslo for just over 24 hours to pick up the award that adds him to a list of laureates including Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Events related to the formal Nobel Peace Prize ceremony normally run over three days, but the president has shortened his visit and excluded the traditional lunch with the king and a Friday night concert in his honour.

There will also be no day-before press conference or lengthy CNN sit-down interview laureates usually grant - enabling him to avoid potentially embarrassing questions.

Obama will however watch the traditional torchlight procession on Thursday evening from the balcony of the Grand Hotel, where bullet-proof glass has been installed.

The other Nobel laureates in the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, economics and literature will meanwhile receive their awards at a gala ceremony in Stockholm on Thursday.