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President Obama Accepts Nobel Peace Prize


U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize during a ceremony at the Oslo City Hall in Oslo, 10 Dec 2009
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize during a ceremony at the Oslo City Hall in Oslo, 10 Dec 2009

US President Barack Obama says his 'accomplishments are slight' compared to other Nobel laureates such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

U.S. President Barack Obama has formally accepted the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway. The president spoke at length about the circumstances that push nations to war, and prompt them to seek peace.

President Obama says he accepts the peace prize with humility, well aware of the controversy that surrounded the choice of the Nobel Committee.

"In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize - Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela - my accomplishments are slight," he said.

But he says the most profound issue surrounding the award is the fact that he is the leader of a nation in the midst of two wars.

"We are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed," he said. "And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict - filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other."

He says there is nothing weak in the path of non-violence championed by the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet Mr. Obama says it cannot be the only path. He says he cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.

"A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms," he said. "To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

His speech to a crowd of dignitaries in Oslo's city hall came just nine days after he ordered another 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan. Well aware of the juxtaposition of events, the president focused on the notion of "just war", and the concept of sustainable peace.

"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes," said Mr. Obama. "There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified."

He echoed the words of former U.S. President John Kennedy, who five decades ago spoke of a realistic, more attainable peace.

President Obama said rules and institutions are needed to keep military action in check. He made specific mention of the need to adhere to strict codes of conduct, and to see that countries live up to their international obligations.

"Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia," he said. "Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war."

President Obama went on to speak about nations that abuse their own people. He said peace must be more than the absence of military conflict.

"So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal," added Mr. Obama. "We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran."

He said the search for peace must entail support for strong institutions, human rights and freedom from want. But he said there is one other key ingredient for a more peaceful world.

" I do not believe that we will have the will, or the staying power, to complete this work without something more - and that is the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there is something irreducible that we all share," he said.

In announcing its choice for the 2009 Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee cited the president's efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation. It said he has captured the imagination of the world with his message of hope.

All the same, the award has been criticized as premature by some, and public opinion polls in the United States indicate many Americans believe the honor is coming far too early.

As the president began his Oslo visit, a group of Norwegians made the same point. They gathered outside the Nobel Institute while the president was inside signing the guest book. They chanted and cheered and held up a yellow banner that said "Obama you won it, now earn it!"