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Obama mulled not going to Oslo to pick up Nobel: book

obamaThe White House asked if US President Barack Obama really had to travel to Oslo to pick up his surprise Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a book due out in Norway on Thursday reveals.

In his memoir “Secretary of Peace”, historian Geir Lundestad recounts some of the backstage goings-on inside the Norwegian Nobel Committee during his time as its influential, but non-voting, secretary from 1990 to 2015.

“No Nobel Peace Prize ever elicited more attention than the 2009 prize to Barack Obama,” he wrote.

The first black president was honoured with the prestigious award just nine months after taking office — while the US was engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The announcement was met with general astonishment, and some sarcasm, while Obama himself admitted his own “surprise”.

At that point “his cabinet had already asked whether anyone had previously refused to travel to Oslo to receive the prize,” Lundestad said.

“In broad strokes, the answer was no.”

Obama ultimately made a lightning visit to the Scandinavian country to collect the prize.

According to Lundestad, then foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store tried the following year to dissuade the panel from awarding the prize to a Chinese dissident, fearing it would put a strain on Norway’s relations with Beijing.

“During my 25 years (on the committee), I don’t ever recall seeing anything like that,” Lundestad said.

The Nobel committee, which fiercely guards its independence from the politics of power, ignored the minister’s warnings and honoured Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo — which has left Oslo’s ties with Beijing frozen ever since.

“I never tried to influence Jagland in his role as head of the Nobel committee,” Store told news agency NTB on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in an amusing anecdote, Lundestad recalled how he caught Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who shared the 1994 prize with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Shimon Peres, in front of the TV in his hotel room watching an episode of the cartoon “Tom and Jerry” with other PLO leaders.

“It was made very clear that they intended to watch until the end,” he said.

The five members of the Nobel committee, often former politicians, are appointed by the Norwegian parliament.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on October 9.



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