Some envoys drop Nobel ceremony

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The director of Norway’s Nobel Institute claims there’s “no boycott” of this year’s annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at Oslo’s City Hall, but he has confirmed that some of the ambassadors from countries that produce atomic weapons won’t be attending. Their governments are not happy that the Peace Prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo’s City Hall is always an elegant affair attended by dignitaries including ambassadors posted in Norway. This year some of those from countries that produce nuclear weapons will be staying away. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

An adviser to the French Embassy in Oslo, for example, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday that its ambassador won’t be attending the ceremony because the embassy wanted to mark its concerns regarding ICAN’s project and the UN treaty against nuclear weapons. France is also part of NATO, and many NATO countries including Norway and France have refused to sign the treaty on the grounds that nuclear weapons are a critical part of NATO’s defense.

That in turn has raised other objections and protests from those who find it hypocritical that countries including Norway that otherwise are high-profile promoters of peace would object to efforts to abolish nuclear weapons. It has made this year’s Nobel Peace Prize controversial once again, and even embarrassing in the country where it’s awarded.

‘It’s … politically complicated’
Olav Njølstad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute and secretary to the Norwegian Nobel Committee that selects Peace Prize winner, told NRK on a national radio broadcast Thursday morning that the decision by some ambassadors to stay away from this year’s Peace Prize ceremony “is no boycott.” He confirmed, however, that some embassies would be sending “representatives at a lower level” following a meeting at the Novel Institute last week to express their concerns.

The French ambassador will not be attending this year’s Peace Prize ceremony, nor will the British ambassador, but both will send their deputies. The US Embassy hasn’t had an ambassador in Norway since just before Donald Trump was inaugurated as US President in January, but it will also reportedly be represented by the embassy’s second-in-command. The US Embassy stated that its government shared the goal of disarmament, but the US does not support and will not sign the UN treaty to forbid nuclear weapons, noting that the Peace Prize to ICAN comes at a time when the danger is increasing that nuclear weapons are spreading.

“It is absolutely most common that the ambassadors come to the ceremony when they can,” Njølstad told NRK, “but we respect that this is difficult for many countries.” He noted that there are “various interpretations of what’s the best path towards a world without nuclear weapons,” and there are also various opinions about whether a world without nuclear weapons is “an achievable and desirable goal. So this is politically complicated and, in part, a controversial issue.”

Russian and Israeli ambassadors will attend
Njølstad of the Nobel Institute added that the dilemmas faced by the embassies in Norway, also those that represent members of NATO, show that the countries that have nuclear weapons and embassies in Norway at least “aren’t indifferent towards this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.” Those countries include the US, France, Great Britain, Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan and China. North Korea also has shown off nuclear weapons recently but has no embassy in Norway.

Until late morning on Thursday, Russia was the only country with nuclear weapons that had accepted the Nobel Committee’s invitation and planned to send its ambassador. It’s embassy sent a statement to NRK that even though it hadn’t signed the UN treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, “we share the long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Russia’s ambassador was later joined by Israel’s. NRK reported that Israel initially had responded that its ambassador, Raphael Schutz, would be abroad when the Peace Prize ceremony is to be held, on December 10 as always, but would send its First Secretary at the Israeli Embassy because the ambassador wanted “to give others” at the embassy an “opportunity to expertience a very fine ceremony” since Schutz had experienced it before. When news broke that attendance had suddenly become a political issue for some ambassadors, Schutz reportedly changed his mind and decided to attend himself after all, to avoid any “misunderstandings” that his absence may have been politically motivated. The Israeli Embassy further stressed that its initial decision was not related to this year’s prize winner.

The ambassadors for Pakistan and India were both due be abroad on this year’s annual Peace Prize Day, NRK reported, but were considering sending a representative. China’s ambassador was reported to out of the country for the rest of the year and the Chinese Embassy had no plans to send any other representative. The Chinese Embassy famously tried to organize a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2010 when it strongly protested that year’s award to the now-deceased Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Its ambassador at the time not only stayed away from the ceremony but encouraged other ambassadors to stay away as well and then left Norway abruptly without going through the normal diplomatic formalities of seeking a farewell audience with King Harald V. China and Norway have since restored diplomatic relations after they were frozen for six years.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund