Nobel committee defendsits Peace Prize for Obama

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Reaction poured in immediately after the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced on Friday that it was awarding this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama. Committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland said he understood that many were surprised the award would go to Obama so early in his term, but added that “no one has done more” in the past year to help create a more peaceful world.

The Peace Prize announcement came when it was only 5am in Washington DC, and there was no immediate reaction from the winner himself. But it was swift in Oslo.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called it “an exciting and important choice,” noting that the prize can help Obama meet such goals as promoting global dialogue, reducing atomic weapons and achieving a global agreement on halting climate change.

The prime minister’s main opponent in Parliament, Siv Jensen of the Progress Party, said the award came too early, before Obama has produced any results. She claimed the Peace Prize shouldn’t be awarded on the basis of expectations. “I congratulate Obama, but think there must be many other (prize) candidates who are disappointed today,” Jensen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).Even Amnesty International’s Norwegian chapter questioned the award, saying it shouldn’t go to a sitting American president who’s currently conducting a war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Jagland and his fellow members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee claim they closely followed the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will, which set up the Nobel prizes more than 100 years ago. Jagland said Obama has simply done more than any other of the 205 candidates for the prize to stimulate dialogue and promote peace.

Jagland argued that Obama already “has changed the world climate dramatically,” through his calls for dialogue instead of confrontation. Obama, he said, has made an “extraordinary” effort to strengthen international diplomacy. It’s “seldom,” Jagland said, that any one person has succeeded in instilling as much hope in the world as Obama has over the past year.

When asked whether he thought the prize was “populistic” or “brazen,” Jagland said no, “no moreso than the prizes given to Mikhail Gorbachev or Willy Brandt.”

He noted that it was the first time applause had broken out at the Nobel Institute in Oslo when the prize was announced. He said he hadn’t spoken to Obama himself: “We didn’t call him in advance.”

See the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s own statement on its awarding of the Peace Prize to Barack Obama here (external link).