By DOUG MELLGREN
OSLO - President Barack Obama and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy are believed to be among a record 205 nominations for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
The secretive five-member awards committee, which released its final nominations count on Friday, keeps the names of candidates secret for 50 years. But some of the thousands of people with nominating rights do announce their nominees.
"It is very easy to be nominated for the peace prize, but that is in no way an endorsement by the committee," said Geir Lundestad, the Norwegian awards committee's nonvoting secretary.
The committee said 172 individuals and 33 organizations were on the list by this week's final deadline. The previous record was 199, in 2005.
"There was a very good geographical spread," Lundestad said. The nominations include those postmarked by a Feb. 1 deadline, and those added by the committee itself at its first meeting of the year, which was Thursday, he said.
This year, the name of the U.S. president has been put forward by unidentified nominators, although he has been in office only a matter of weeks.
Lundestad has said in the past that people or groups are sometimes listed simply because nominators like them.
Some might also make a nomination in case their favorites were to accomplish something prize-worthy after the strict deadline. The committee previously confirmed that it had wanted to include President Jimmy Carter in the 1978 Camp David peace award to Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin but could not because he was not nominated in time. Carter won the 2002 prize on his own.
Sarkozy was nominated for peace efforts in the Russia-Georgia conflict and the Middle East.
Lundestad refused to comment on specific names, but said thousands of people, ranging from past Nobel peace laureates to many college professors, have nomination rights. Sometimes, dozens might nominate the same candidate, or just one can like a specific person or group.
The names of the Obama and Sarkozy nominators were not immediately known.
But more is known about how some of the others were nominated.
Macedonian humanitarian and artist Zivko Popovski-Cvetin was nominated by the Macedonian government, Austrian children's charity SOS-Kinderdorf International was put forward by the Austrian government, American Greg Mortenson was nominated by six members of the U.S. Congress for his Asian school building charity, Vietnamese religious leader Thich Quang Do was put forward when a campaign recruited lawmakers to nominate him, and American musician Pete Seeger also was nominated after a campaign.
Lundestad has said the committee typically cuts the contenders down to a short list of 30 to 35 names at its first meeting, which is whittled down to about 10 at the committee's next meeting, in April. The decision is announced in mid-October.
Last year's prize went to peace mediator Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president.
The Nobel Prizes, created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, are presented on Dec. 10.