Chirac Nobel peace prize winner? Don't hold your breath, Norwegians say
OSLO (AFP) Aug 10, 2003
French President Jacques Chirac's chances of winning this year's prestigious Nobel peace prize, for which he boasts a nomination, are microscopic, Norwegian experts say.

"Chirac's chances are infinitely small," said Stein Toennesson, head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo PRIO, adding that Chirac's stance against war in Iraq did not amount to making him a man of peace.

"Chirac's position during the Iraq crisis was closely linked to national interests and not specifically to any desire for peace for the sake of peace. And looking back over his career, there is no trace of a continuous commitment to peace," he said.

Chirac's name was put forward, ahead of the February 1 deadline, by three Costa Rican sponsors who want to see the president rewarded for his Iraq stance and for peace efforts in Ivory Coast.

Parliamentarians, government ministers, some university professors and former laureates worldwide all have the right to propose their peace price candidates.

On March 4, Chirac got further backing when Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika said that if Chirac could stop the war "I would like to say, in the name of all peoples, including the American people, that he should receive the Nobel prize".

But it was not to be, and the US-led army rolled into Iraq two weeks later.

"The Nobel committee cannot reward a failure," said Tove Gravdal, a journalist and France expert at daily Aftenposten, adding that the Nobel prize for Chirac would be extremely controversial in the United States, but also in Norway.

"Here we remember that one of Chirac's first decisions after being elected president was to resume nuclear testing in the Mururoa atoll. That's enough to outweigh his actions against war in Iraq," she said.

In general, students of French history were "not struck by the country's pacificism", she added.

Chirac is competing with 164 other names, on a list comprising 140 individuals and 25 organisations, which make up the longest ever submitted to the Oslo committee.

While there is agreement that the odds on Chirac are unusually long, experts acknowledged that there is no obvious frontrunner in this year's contest, which will take place in mid-October.

Toennesson thinks this year's winner could be Iranian dissident Hachem Aghajari, currently in prison in his country.

"This would send a message of democracy to Iran to encourage the reform process, and a peace message to the United States saying that change in Iran is not happening through war," he said.

But the only way of knowing whether Aghajari is even on the list is for his sponsors to tell the world, as the Nobel committee itself keeps the list of nominees secret.

Irish pop star Bono, Pope John Paul II, Vaclav Havel, Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng as well as imprisoned Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu have all been rumoured to be on the list.

Last year, the prestigious prize went to former US president Jimmy Carter.

The Nobel Peace Prize consists of a diploma, a gold medallion and a cheque worth about a million dollars (900,000 euros).