WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: Short stay miffs Norwegians

AP News
|
Posted: Dec 10, 2009 5:21 PM

President Barack Obama's decision to break with tradition and not follow the lead of past Nobel Peace Prize winners bewildered some Norwegians. Others thought he was being impolite.

Obama had quite a whirlwind day Thursday _ he signed the Nobel guest book, huddled with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, met with King Harald V and Queen Sonja, and delivered an acceptance speech after he was formally presented with the prize. He also joined the king and queen at an evening banquet.

But he skipped several other activities, including lunch with the king, a news conference at Oslo's Grand Hotel, CNN's traditional interview with the prize winner and a "Save the Children" benefit concert, where organizers replaced him with an Obama cardboard cutout. Obama also won't be around for Friday's Nobel Concert.

Obama blamed his schedule. "I still have a lot of work to do back in Washington, D.C., before the year is done," he said during an appearance with Stoltenberg. The president's quick visit also reflected a White House that saw little value in trumpeting an honor for peace just days after Obama announced he was sending more troops off to war.

In a survey published Wednesday in Norwegian VG daily, 53 percent of respondents said Obama's decision not to attend the Nobel Concert was "impolite," and 48 percent said the same of his decision to skip the CNN interview and the news conference. Forty-four percent disapproved of his decision to pass up lunch with the king.

The survey was conducted Dec. 8 by InFact. It involved telephone interviews with 1,000 people and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Siv Jensen, leader of the right-wing opposition Progress Party, told VG she thought Obama should "show some respect for the monarchy."

Jonathan Mann, the CNN reporter who for the past 15 years has interviewed the Nobel Peace laureate, said he wasn't offended at being turned down by Obama.

"He's a busy guy, essentially. We're not taking it personally," Mann told Norwegian national broadcaster NRK.

___

Obama's first stop after arriving in Oslo was the Norwegian Nobel Institute, where the Nobel committee meets to decide who gets the prestigious prize.

The momentous nature of the occasion didn't keep the publicly playful Obama and his wife, Michelle, from teasing each other.

"You writing a book there?" she said as he wrote what appeared to be a seven-line passage in the thick guest book. "Yeah," he responded.

When Obama finished, Geir Lundestad, the Nobel permanent secretary, invited Mrs. Obama to sign, too. "Mine won't be as long," she quipped. Obama then turned to the committee members and reporters in the room and, noting that his wife's words will be recorded for history, said: "She will resist writing something sarcastic."

Obama said he had thanked the committee for highlighting the cause of peace and giving "voice to the voiceless and the oppressed."

___

Obama's acceptance speech clocked in at 36 minutes with more than 4,200 words. So how does it stack up against some of his other big speeches?

It was neither the longest nor the shortest speech of his time in office.

Last week's speech on the decision to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan had more than 4,600 words.

His speech to the Muslim world, delivered from Cairo in June, topped out at more than 6,000 words.

The inaugural address had a mere 2,300 words.

At an evening banquet with Norwegian royalty, Obama poked fun at his long-winded acceptance speech, saying he had "entirely exhausted himself" delivering the address.

"I spoke for a very long time," he admitted, then promised not to do likewise with his dinner toast.

The president got his biggest laugh line of his toast when he took note of Nobel committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland's laudatory introduction of him, saying, "I told him afterward that I thought it was an excellent speech _ and that I was almost convinced that I deserved it."

___

Wherever Obama is, chances are celebrities will follow. And follow him to Norway they did.

Husband-and-wife actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, along with daughter Willow, were among those trekking to Oslo for the festivities. Wyclef Jean, the former frontman for the hip-hop group, The Fugees, also was spotted seated in the audience at City Hall, where Obama delivered his acceptance speech. Country music star Toby Keith also was present.

The sight of Smith, accompanied by his wife and waving to a cheering throng as he walked into the Grand Hotel, where Obama was staying, sparked speculation that the couple would have a private audience with the first sitting president in 90 years to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

But if for some reason the Smiths couldn't get upstairs to see their president and first lady, they had the option of meeting with the unidentified couple that wore large, inflatable Barack and Michelle Obama masks and milled about outside in front of the hotel.

The Smiths were scheduled to participate in Friday's concert.

___

Besides the signs held by anti-war and environmental protesters, there were few other signs of Obama paraphernalia on Oslo's streets.

A few blocks away from the Grand Hotel, a local pharmacy advertised the GX+ brand of anti-bacterial hand soap with the tag line: "Barack Obama, Use GX+ and Face No Drama." It was a reference to Obama's cool and collected way.

A local convenience store chain promoted its coffee with an "Obama in Oslo" sale, listing prices in dollars aimed at members of Obama's entourage. The advertisement also noted that President Bill Clinton, who visited Oslo in 1999 and was the last sitting U.S. president to touch down in Norway, "had one."

___

Associated Press writers Ben Feller and Ian McDougall contributed to this report.