OSLO — Members of the Norwegian committee that gave Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize are strongly defending their choice against a storm of criticism that the award was premature and a potential liability for the U.S. president.
Asked to comment on the uproar following Friday’s announcement, four members of the five-seat panel told The Associated Press that they had expected the decision to generate both surprise and criticism.
Three of them rejected the notion that Obama hadn’t accomplished anything to deserve the award, while the fourth declined to answer that question. A fifth member didn’t answer calls seeking comment.
“We simply disagree that he has done nothing,” committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland told the AP on Tuesday. “He got the prize for what he has done.”
Jagland singled out Obama’s efforts to heal the divide between the West and the Muslim world and scale down a Bush-era proposal 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,” Jagland said by phone from the French city of Strasbourg, where he was attending meetings in his other role as secretary-general of the Council of Europe.
He said most world leaders were positive about the award and that most of the criticism was coming from the media and from Obama’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 Obama followed the guidelines set forth 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,” Jagland said. “Who has done more for that than Barack Obama?”
Aagot Valle, a left-wing Norwegian politician who joined the Nobel panel this year, also dismissed suggestions that the decision to award Obama was without merit.
“Don’t you think that comments like that patronize Obama? Where do these people come from?” Valle said by phone from the western coastal city of Bergen. “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 Friday’s announcement, the committee said giving Obama the peace prize could be seen as an early vote of confidence intended to build global support for the policies of his young administration.