Nobel Prize Panel Defends Obama Award Decision

Members of the Norwegian committee that gave Barack Obama the Nobel peace prize have issued an extraordinary defence of their decision after a storm of criticism that the award was premature and a potential liability for the US president.Asked to comment on the uproar after Friday’s announcement, members of the five-strong panel said they had expected the decision to generate both surprise and criticism.

“We simply disagree that he has done nothing,” committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said. “He got the prize for what he has done.”

He singled out Mr Obama’s efforts to heal the divide between the West and the Muslim world and to scale down a Bush-era plan for an anti-missile shield in Europe. “All these things have contributed to … I wouldn’t say a safer world, but a world with less tension,” Mr Jagland said.

He said the majority of world leaders were positive about the award and most of the criticism was coming from the media and the president’s political rivals.

“I take note of it. My response is only the judgment of the committee, which was unanimous,” he said, adding that the award to Mr Obama followed the guidelines set out by Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite, who established the Nobel prizes in his 1895 will.

“Alfred Nobel wrote that the prize should go to the person who has contributed most to the development of peace in the previous year,” Mr Jagland said. “Who has done more for that than Barack Obama?”

Aagot Valle, a left-wing Norwegian politician who joined the five-man Nobel panel this year, also dismissed suggestions that the decision to award Mr Obama was without merit.

“Don’t you think that comments like that patronise Obama? Where do these people come from?” Mr Valle said. “Well, of course, all arguments have to be considered seriously. I’m not afraid of a debate on the peace prize decision. That’s fine.”

In last Friday’s announcement, the committee said giving the US president the peace prize could be seen as an early vote of confidence intended to build global support for the policies of his young administration.

The left-leaning committee, whose members are appointed by the Norwegian parliament, lauded the change in global mood wrought by Mr Obama’s calls for peace and co-operation.

However, their decision stunned even the most seasoned Nobel watchers – Mr Obama took office barely two weeks before the 1 February nomination deadline.

The decision to give him the prize was derided by Mr Obama’s Republican opponents and even questioned by some Democrats, who wondered what the president had done to merit the $1.4 million (£880,000) honour.

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said naming Mr Obama had shown “how meaningless a once honourable and respected award has become”.

Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, a nine-year veteran of the Nobel committee, said:

“Whenever we award the peace prize, there is normally a big debate about it.”

Asked if there was a risk the prize could backfire on Mr Obama by raising expectations even higher and giving ammunition to his critics, she said “it might hamper him”, because it could distract from domestic issues such as healthcare reform.

Mr Jagland said he did not think the prize would hurt Mr Obama domestically but added that the committee did not take US politics into consideration when making its decision.

www.scotsman.com

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