Oslo gears up to welcome Obama

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It took awhile before it was confirmed that US President Barack Obama

(photo) will actually come to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize he won on Friday. Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang was nonetheless ready to roll out the red carpet, while Police Chief Anstein Gjengedal wished he had more time to make security arrangements.White House officials seemed as caught off guard as everyone else when news broke Friday morning in Oslo that the Norwegian Nobel Committee had decided to award this year’s Nobel Prize to Obama. Obama woke up to the news that he suddenly would be a Nobel Laureate, and it took six hours before he emerged from the White House to say he’d accept the prize.

The prize comes after a few weeks of downturns for the young president. He failed to secure a Summer Olympics for his hometown of Chicago and he’s struggling to win support for his health care reform, among other things. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize likely offers an unexpected boost once the surprise wore off.

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is traditionally held every year in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of benefactor Alfred Nobel’s death. That date will coincide nicely with an expected appearance by Obama at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, which will run from December 7-18. It’s only an hour flight from Copenhagen to Oslo, so Nobel organizers hope both Obama and his popular wife Michelle will make the trip.

It couldn’t be assumed he’d travel to Oslo. When Mikhail Gorbachev won the prize in 1990, he was too busy to come collect it and the ceremony was delayed by six months. Other winners have had to send representatives to Oslo to claim their prizes.But Mayor Fabian Stang is already making plans. “We just have to roll up our sleeves and make sure the city receives Obama in the best possible way,” Stang told Aftenposten.no. “We’ll manage. It’s important that this also will be a good experience for Oslo residents, and that Oslo isn’t turned into a fortress.”

Visits from sitting American presidents require enormous security measures but Oslo Police Chief Anstein prefers to view it as a “pleasant” challenge. “We’ve handled previous such visits,” he said, recalling US President Bill Clinton’s visit at the end of his term in 1999. That cost taxpayers more than NOK 30 million.

Anstein wishes his department had more time for planning, though. “We’ve already asked for a meeting with the state police directorate,” he said. “No one can expect that we have the budget to pay for this, so late in the year,” suggesting the Oslo Police District will need more funding and reinforcements from other police districts.

One Nobel Peace Prize tradition may have to change: Winners always stay in a suite at the Grand Hotel and step out on its balcony to wave to admirers after a torchlight parade. Security at the venerable Grand, located in the heart of town just across from the Parliament, may not meet US Secret Service requirements. Clinton stayed at the more secure Radisson Plaza hotel, while other heads of state often stay at Norway’s official guest house or inside the Royal Palace.