Royal 'overnatting' for Obama

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Norway’s King Harald has invited US President Barack Obama to spend the night, or two, at the Royal Palace in Oslo when Obama comes to accept his Nobel Peace Prize in December. Prize winners usually stay at Oslo’s Grand Hotel, but Obama’s overnight stay (

overnatting , in Norwegian) presents extraordinary security challenges.The Norwegian Nobel Committee likely will have to make several changes in the traditional, annual celebration of the Peace Prize winner, given the stature and security risks attached to this year’s Nobel laureate.

Winners are usually invited to spend a few days in Oslo, arriving well in advance of the prize ceremony (always held at 1pm on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death) and leaving after the Nobel Concert is held on the evening of the 11th. Winners are almost always housed at the Grand Hotel in the heart of the city, from which the winner traditionally steps out on the balcony to wave to cheering crowds after a torchlit peace parade.

The annual Nobel Peace Prize banquet is also held at the Grand Hotel, and the royal couple has attended in recent years.Things will likely be different this December. It remains unclear how long Obama’s schedule will permit him to stay in Oslo. It may be only a few hours, in which case no overnight stay will be necessary. Organizers hope, however, he will stay long enough to attend the Nobel banquet in the evening and maybe even in the concert held in the winner’s honor the following evening.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Friday that Obama will definitely meet King Harald, Queen Sonja, Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit on December 10 before attending the Peace Prize ceremony at Oslo’s City Hall in the early afternoon.

Aftenposten also reported that King Harald has invited Obama to spend the night, and the next night as well, in the palace’s HaakonVII’s Suite, complete with sitting room, bedroom and modern bathroom decorated with antiques from the 1840s when the palace was built. The suite is used by visiting heads of state and the palace may be considered more secure accommodation than the Grand Hotel.

Management at the Grand, however, has made it clear they’re still ready to roll out the red carpet for Obama and his large entourage. “We are prepared to maintain tradition and will gladly meet the Americans’ needs,” hotel director Svein Petter Haslerud told Aftenposten . Haslerud, who will meet with staff from the US Embassy in Oslo, thinks the Grand’s Millennium Suite (which normally costs NOK 22,000, or about USD 4,000 a night) would be appropriate for Obama if the US president doesn’t accept the king’s invitation.

Cost questions

Questions were raised this week over who will foot the bill for Obama’s travel and security arrangements, expected to cost as much as NOK 100 million (nearly USD 20 million). “We didn’t exactly budget for this,” said a local police spokesman, and meetings are already scheduled with the state in the hopes the government will share costs.

The Nobel Committee is behind the celebration of the prize winner, but again, arrangements and costs will be extraordinary this year. While most prize winners arrive on regularly scheduled airlines, Obama will fly in on Air Force One. Norwegians have already been warned that the air space over Oslo and much of southern Norway will be closed on December 10, as will the main E6 highway that leads from the airport at Gardermoen into Oslo.

Most of downtown Oslo will also be cordoned off throughout the duration of Obama’s stay. Manhole covers will be sealed, streets blocked off, and the movements of occupants of nearby buildings will be restricted.

Obama has said he didn’t feel he deserved “to be in the company” of earlier Peace Prize winners. He noted, however, that the prize hasn’t only been used as a means of recognizing accomplishment, but as a means of lending momentum to various causes.

That’s the spirit in which he will accept the prize, he said, as “a call to action” to keep working on his efforts to reduce nuclear weapons, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, achieve peace in the Middle East and help resolve other conflicts all over the world, through dialogue and diplomacy as opposed to confrontation.