The Cable

Who will get the Nobel Peace Prize?

With the Nobel committee set to announce its selection for the 2010 Peace Prize on Friday, speculation has mounted that it will be awarded to one of two prominent activists, hailing from Afghanistan and China. An American is not among the frontrunners for the prize, experts say.

One of the organizations closest to the process (both in mission and geography) is the Peace Research Institute of Olso (PRIO). Director Kristian Berg Harpviken offered his predictions over who would win this year's prize in an event Wednesday at the United States Institute of Peace. His top three contenders are: female Afghan human rights advocate Sima Samar, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a diaspora-based news agency, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).

Samar is his top choice because this is a crucial time in the formation of the Afghan civil society and the establishment of a human rights regime, which the Nobel committee might want to capitalize on, he said.

"I think a prize to Sima Samar would put considerable pressure both on the Afghan government, President Karzai in particular, and on the international community," Harpviken said. "It would make it considerably harder to leave human rights issues by the roadside in Afghanistan and it would be much more difficult for the president... to continue to neglect her and the issues that she stands for."

PRIO's recommendations have hit the nail on the head twice in the last five years, but are based on informed speculation, not any insider's knowledge, he cautioned.

One contender who is leading the odds makers' prediction but is not on Harpviken's short list is imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose nomination has already sparked very public opposition from the Chinese government.

"I don't see it as very likely that he will be awarded the prize," Harpviken said, arguing that 2008 would have been a better year to focus on Chinese human rights violations, in response to Chinese government oppression surrounding the Beijing Olympics.

The committee is sensitive to Chinese government pressure, he said. "The prize for a Chinese dissident would have consequences and I don't think that goes down too well with the committee," he said. "You have a certain level of sensitivity to what that could provoke."

Similarly, since the chairman of the committee Thorbjon Jugland is also secretary general of the Council of Europe, he might not be enthusiastic about choosing a Russian dissident for the prize, such as Svetlana Gannushkina, according to Harpviken.

There aren't any quotas, but the Nobel committee does like to achieve some demographic balance with its awards, he explained. For example, since a woman hasn't been awarded the Peace Prize since Wangari Maathai won it in 2004, women like Samar might have a better chance this year.

One thing Harpviken is pretty confident about is that no American will win the prize, especially after the controversial selection last year of President Barack Obama.

"The fact that one fourth of Nobel Peace Prize laureates have been Americans would effectively rule out American candidates this year," he said.

The process by which the five-member committee selects the nominee is extremely opaque. What we do know is that there were 237 candidates nominated. 18 of those have been confirmed by name while another 23 are rumoured to be on the list.

The selection committee is made up of five Norwegian politicians selected by the Norwegian Parliament. Chaired by Jugland, the committee also includes Kaci Kullman Five, Sissel Ronbeck, Inger-Mari Ytterhorn, and Agot Valle.

"It's a bit problematic that the parliament appoints membership in this way. I don't think any of these members are appointed first and foremost for their expertise on matters of war and peace," Harpviken said

Some of the other top contenders Harpviken mentioned include the International Crisis Group, Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege, and Richard Goldstone, the author of a controversial U.N. report on the 2006 Gaza war.

The Cable

Administration scrambles to explain why ambassadors were turned away from White House reception

Several foreign ambassadors were shocked Tuesday night when they arrived at the White House for the annual "Chiefs of Mission" reception but were denied entry by security staff. Several threw up their hands and went home.

Ambassadors from Oman, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and several other countries were held at the door, while European diplomats from France and Finland were allowed in. This led several ambassadors to speculate that it was an alphabetical problem -- countries with names in the latter half of the alphabet were somehow affected by a registration error. Neither the administration nor the State Department would provide a full list of the countries affected by the SNAFU.

The Cable tracked down what happened. One administration official told us that many of the foreign ambassadors and chargés d'affaires, when supplying their personal information in advance to get access to the White House grounds, used the European style of dates (DD/MM/YY) instead of the American style (MM/DD/YY) that the White House is accustomed to.

So, for example, your humble Cable guy was born on Dec. 31 (yes, New Year's Eve), but if the date was given to the White House as 31/12/19XX (the year is classified), that wouldn't match their official identification and entry to the White House would be denied, the official explained.

But multiple ambassadors who tried to attend the event told a different story.

"That's rubbish. None of the ambassadors had done that," said one ambassador who eventually left after waiting for more than 45 minutes. He said that the State Department called him Wednesday morning to explain that the mistake was the administration's doing, and that the problem had been created when someone entered the date of birth wrong in an Excel spreadsheet.

"The apology they gave to us was that it was a technical fault on their end and they explained that whoever was punching the information in entered the information wrong," this ambassador reported.

He pointed out that the birthday errors were always with the year of birth, not the month and day. Besides, these diplomats visit the White House enough to know how to submit a date of birth.

The State Department was all over the damage control Wednesday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had the various assistant secretaries of state for the regional bureaus call up the ambassadors affected to apologize. White House spokesman Ben Chang also issued this apologetic statement:

"At the start of the reception for Chiefs of Mission and Charges d'Affaires (Tuesday afternoon), a few guests were delayed at the entrance to the White House due to an error in processing their personal data. While eventually resolved, we regret that some departed due to the delay and apologize to those inconvenienced."

CNN reported that as many as 30 diplomats were initially denied entry. Omani Ambassador Hunaina Sultan al-Mughairy was the first to leave the premises in frustration, our sources report.

This was the second annual "Chiefs of Mission" reception, following the inaugural event last summer. President Obama started with a speech after which each country's representative took their turn shaking his and First Lady Michelle Obama's hands, conveying whatever message they were able in the few short moments they have his ear.

For those who did make it into event, they said it went very well and were pleased with the experience.

"They always put a lot of effort into it. It was a really nice event," said one ambassador, who had no problems getting through security. "We all appreciate that the White House makes a special effort for us."

But for those who were initially turned away, there is some lingering disappointment.

"It's an example of how a little thing can become a bigger deal," said one ambassador who was denied entry. "Most of the ambassadors took it in stride but some of them really got offended."