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 Strasbourg, where he was attending meetings in his other role as secretary-general of the Council of Europe.
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 of 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 Obama's calls for peace and cooperation, and praised his pledges to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms, ease U.S. conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthen the country's role in combating climate change.
However, the decision stunned even the most seasoned Nobel watchers. They hadn't expected Obama, who took office barely two weeks before the Feb. 1 nomination deadline, to be seriously considered until at least next year.