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STAVANGER, Norway – A book detailing the secret tussles behind some of the most controversial Nobel Peace Prizes in the last quarter century is having its own disruptive effect on the 2015 award.
With the announcement just a week away, a row is intensifying between the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee and Geir Lundestad, the former secretary they accuse of breaching the panel's code of silence.
Lundestad, the committee's senior bureaucrat for 25 years, admits his book "The Peace Secretary" skirts the line between statutes that demand 50 years of secrecy and his own "duty as a history professor" to be as open as possible.
The committee says his duty is misplaced. In a statement sent to The Associated Press by chairman Kaci Kullman Five, Lundestad is accused of a "clear violation of trust against committee members and leaders who confidentially discussed the Nobel Peace Prize with him and in his presence."
The feud has overshadowed the run-up to this year's award, for which the buzz is mainly around German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for her acceptance of refugees, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, for their nuclear deal. Like last year, Pope Francis and Russian human rights groups also figure in the speculation. The committee hasn't given any hints.
Lundestad reserves his most scathing criticism for committee member Thorbjoern Jagland, who was demoted from the chairman's post in a reshuffle last year. The one-time Norwegian prime minister and current secretary-general of the Council of Europe is described as being a "disorganized" person with "surprising holes in his knowledge." The book also claims that Jagland dropped hints about winners to journalists and relied on Lundestad to ghostwrite his Nobel speeches.
These last two points are described by Jagland in an article for Oslo daily Aftenposten as "libelous" and "shocking" lies. Within days of the book being published, Lundestad was told he had until the end of the year to vacate his office at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo.
Jagland also reminded Lundestad, who retired at the end of 2014, that he was a "civil servant" not the "sixth member of the committee."
In a phone call with The AP, Lundestad stood by his accusations, repeating a charge that Jagland should never have been on the panel.
"My concern is that it should be as independent as possible and I make the argument that it would be difficult if we have former prime ministers and foreign ministers serving on the committee," Lundestad said.
His comment has reopened debate in Norway about how the panel should be picked. By Nobel statute, the all-Norwegian group is elected by the country's lawmakers and reflects the party arithmetic inside the Parliament.
Critics of the book have defended the process and accused Lundestad of undermining the prize.
"I warned him about this six months ago," said Conservative lawmaker Oeyvind Halleraker. "The prestige of the committee and the prize is very important."
Christian Tybring Gjedde, a lawmaker from the right-wing Progress Party, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, also defended the committee despite being a longtime critic of its choices.
"You can say what you like about Jagland — and I have — but put that aside, he was the elected chairman," he said. "I don't think it is the proper way to speak of your boss."
Lundestad's book also reveals the opinions of individual committee members about certain candidates. It says committee member Inger-Marie Ytterhorn was pained at the 2011 prize being awarded to environmental campaigner Al Gore; that the one-time Iraq weapons inspector, Hans Blix, might have been chosen in 2005 had the committee not been wary of riling the American administration; and that members, led by the Lutheran Bishop Gunnar Staalsett, were not keen on giving the prize to a Catholic pope.
"It is not true the way he puts it," said Staalsett, who left the committee last year. "That's the problem with this whole thing. He has created the wrong impression that we can't put right because we have signed an agreement for secrecy. I would not have thought Lundestad would break his. I am very disappointed at that."
Lundestad also describes how the committee thought long and hard about giving the prize to a Chinese dissident before awarding it to Liu Xiaobo in 2010.
The committee sought advice from international experts on China, who warned that awarding a dissident could lead to even more repression.
Lundestad reiterates how a Chinese diplomat warned the committee that doing so would be seen as a hostile act, but says there was also pressure from Norwegian officials worried about Chinese-Norwegian relations, including Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere.
Gahr Stoere has denied trying to influence the independent committee.
Lundestad said attempts to dissuade committee members had the opposite effect.
"If the committee had been in doubt before, it became more convinced now," he wrote. "It would have come out if the committee had changed course as a result of pressure from Chinese and Norwegian authorities."
The award to Liu infuriated China and led to a freeze in diplomatic relations with Norway and a drop in imports of Norwegian goods including salmon.
The peace prize is awarded in Oslo while the other Nobel awards are given out in Stockholm in line with the wishes of prize founder Alfred Nobel. The first prize announcement, for the medicine award, is set for Monday.