Obama to tackle Afghan war head-on in Nobel speech
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will frame the war in Afghanistan as part of wider pursuit for peace when he accepts the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Thursday, a U.S. official said.
Obama, who flies to Norway on Wednesday night, has the tricky task of reconciling the peace prize with being a wartime president who only last week ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in a dramatic escalation of the U.S. war effort.
This "interesting coincidence of history" is not lost on the president, said a senior administration official who gave Reuters a preview of what Obama will say when he becomes the fourth U.S. president to receive the award.
"He is well aware there is an interesting context that he will be receiving this award roughly a week after announcing the deployment of 30,000 troops," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as Obama was still working on the estimated 20-25 minute speech.
"His approach to speeches in general is to take head-on whatever the issues are that contextualize the speech. He is not going to shy away from addressing something that is a charged topic," the official said.
When the Nobel Committee first announced in October that Obama had won the prize, stunning the White House, some U.S. commentators saw it as a political liability for a president responsible for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Nobel Committee's decision drew both praise and skepticism, and some polls show a majority of Americans think the prize is undeserved and premature. Critics say he has achieved few tangible gains in his nearly 11 months in office.
Efforts to revive stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace talks and engage diplomatically with Iran over its disputed nuclear program have gone nowhere, and climate change legislation is stuck in the U.S. Congress.
'CONSTRUCTIVE AMERICAN LEADERSHIP'
But supporters credit Obama with improving the United States' global image and highlight his decision to make climate change a top priority, and his commitment to reduce the size of the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
Obama acknowledged in October that while winning a prize dedicated to peace, he was still commander-in-chief of a country in two wars. The administration official said the award had neither influenced Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, nor the timing of his announcement.
"He sees the peace prize as having a long history of recognizing the accomplishments of people who have worked to extend peace in various ways," the official said.
"Right now, he has a range of foreign policy and national security initiatives, all of which are designed toward achieving greater peace and security in the world. That would include our efforts in Afghanistan, our efforts against extremism," he said.
For many Americans, however, the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony will be a distraction from a much bigger domestic story -- 15 million people out of work and double-digit unemployment that has eroded Obama's popularity and could hurt his Democratic Party's prospects in congressional elections next year.
Obama held a jobs forum last week in which he solicited job creation ideas from union and business leaders, among others, and on Monday announced modest steps to spur job creation.
In awarding Obama the peace prize, the Nobel Committee cited "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples" and his push for nuclear disarmament.
"He believes that part of the reason he won this award was not simply about him, it's the fact that there's a hunger around the world for constructive American leadership and this is an affirmation of that," the official said when asked whether Obama would strike a note of humility.
Obama would also say that "in order to achieve our goals the United States has a responsibility to take action on the most pressing challenges that we face, but all nations have a responsibility as well," the official said.
Two leading human rights groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, on Wednesday criticized Obama's pragmatic approach to foreign policy, saying too often it was at the expense of human rights promotion, especially in countries such as China, the United States' biggest creditor.
(Editing by Patricia Wilson and Mohammad Zargham)
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