OSLO - President Obama departed Wednesday night for this Scandinavian city where he will accept the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, just over a week after announcing plans to deploy 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
Obama is to receive the award Thursday during a solemn ceremony at Oslo City Hall. After the ceremony, aides said, the president will deliver a speech that confronts the seeming paradox of receiving the prestigious peace prize while serving as a war president.
"He will address at the very beginning of his speech being a president involved in two wars accepting an award for peace," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in an interview.
The president will also explain his duty to pursue both security and peace - goals that sometimes make war unavoidable, aides said.
Obama is expected to reiterate a point he made after the five-person Norwegian Nobel Committee stunned him and many others by selecting him for the award less than nine months into his presidency: that he is being recognized less for his achievements than for his aspirations.
"I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement," Obama told reporters hours after winning the award Oct. 9. "It also has been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes."
Aides said that the president views the award - which has gone in the past to such luminaries as Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Elie Wiesel - as a call to action.
In choosing Obama, the Nobel Committee cited his call for a world free of nuclear weapons and his attempt to foster global cooperation, which many analysts saw as a slap at the often unilateralist foreign policy pursued by former president George W. Bush.
The committee, which is appointed by the Norwegian parliament, said Obama has "created a new climate in international politics." The group "in particular looked at Obama's vision and work toward a world without atomic weapons," committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said when Obama was named this year's winner.
As he has traveled the globe, Obama has emphasized the need for leaders to show mutual respect while pursuing mutual interests. That approach has proved popular in many parts of the world, with international public opinion polls suggesting renewed admiration for the United States.
But it remains to be seen whether the president's foreign overtures will yield tangible successes.
Since taking office, Obama has tried to engage North Korea and Iran to stop their nuclear programs, called for stronger protocols to limit nuclear proliferation and pushed for an agreement to combat global warming. He has also tried to coax the Israelis and Palestinians into a new round of peace talks. So far, none of those goals has been met.
Meanwhile, Obama's critics have accused him of being naive and of apologizing for the United States' leading role on the world stage.
In addition to presiding over two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has also has significantly stepped up missile strikes on terrorist targets in Pakistan, according to news reports - all of which complicates his message as he prepares to receive the world's most prestigious peace prize.
The prize carries a $1.4 million cash award that the White House has said Obama will donate to charity.