Ambassador in place to greet Obama

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The new US ambassador to Norway made the ceremonial trip up to the Royal Palace in Oslo on Thursday, to formally be received by King Harald V. Barry B White has arrived in Oslo just in time to see the president who nominated him receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Massive preparations are underway for what’s shaping up as a 24-hour visit from Barack Obama next month.

White was invited to present his credentials at 11:15am, just a half-hour before another new ambassador, Afghanistan’s envoy to Norway, was invited to present hers. The king tends to have a fairly busy midday program of granting audiences.

White, an attorney from Boston long active in community service, was confirmed by the US Senate in September (photo) . He arrives in Oslo just as the relatively quiet Norwegian capital is all abuzz over the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama.

White was an active supporter of Obama’s campaign but likely didn’t expect to be meeting his president in Oslo quite so soon.The Norwegian police, the state intelligence agency PST, the national special crime unit Kripos and the foreign ministry are working with the US Secret Service to plan security for the visit, which is expected to be unlike anything Oslo has ever seen. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported Thursday that Obama’s entourage will arrive on five aircraft (not just Air Force One) and include 200 Secret Service agents and as many as another 500 aides, guests and government officials.

Johan Fredriksen of the Oslo Police District wouldn’t go into details but said the actual number of persons traveling with Obama can change from day to day.

It remains unclear exactly how long Obama will stay. His popular wife Michelle Obama is expected to join him for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, which usually starts at 1pm on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.

“We’re operating with a variety of scenarios, that he’ll come and go on the same day or that he’ll stay one or two nights,” Fredriksen said. One night would allow his attendance at the traditional Nobel Banquet at the Grand Hotel, and two nights would mean he could attend the traditional Nobel Concert at the Oslo Spektrum Arena, which is broadcast worldwide.

Nobel officials and police later told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that they now expect the president to arrive on the morning of the 10th, meet the Norwegian Nobel Committee at the Nobel Institute, meet King Harald at the Royal Palace, attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, meet Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, sit for a traditional broadcast interview and attend the Nobel Banquet Thursday evening.

The entire Grand Hotel reportedly has been reserved by Obama and his delegation, indicating he will stay there. He’s also been invited to stay at the palace, while visiting US officials also are known to stay at the ambassador’s large residence in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district. NRK reported a palace stay now seems unlikely.

A traditional torchlight parade honoring the Peace Prize winner will still be held and NRK said the Secret Service has asked for bullet-proof glass to be erected around the balcony at the Grand Hotel where the Peace Prize winner traditional stands to wave at parade-goers. NRK reported it was unlikely the president would attend the Nobel Concert on the 11th, also held in honor of the prize winner, but organizers were hoping maybe Michelle Obama would stay on for it.

‘Just a man’

While details of Obama’s visit probably won’t be confirmed for another few weeks, one thing is clear: The city will be sealed like a drum during Obama’s visit, with air space closed and streets blocked, manholes welded shut, garbage cans removed and armed police stationed on rooftops. Fredriksen said the sharpshooters on the rooftops will be Norwegian.

A team of around 30 White House staffers and Secret Service agents already have been in Oslo to scope out the city and run through the Nobel program.

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang put out an appeal on Sunday for the city to remain as open as possible, to allow for the traditional “people’s party” (folkefest) that accompanies the awarding of the Peace Prize.

“I think we lose a certain dimension if the distance between politicians and the public gets too wide,” Stang told Aftenposten . “He is the world’s most powerful man. But he is, despite everything, just a man.”