OSLO — There's no reason to apologize for supporting U.S. war efforts, American country singer Toby Keith said Friday, just hours before performing at the annual Nobel Peace Prize concert.
Keith, whose 2002 saber-rattling hit "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" was inspired by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said he stands by President Barack Obama's decision to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
Keith's appearance at the downtown Oslo Spektrum arena, scheduled for 1900 GMT (2 p.m. EST), has been questioned by Norwegians dismayed that a performer known for a fervent pro-war anthem is playing at a show focused on peace.
The musician dismissed the criticism.
"If President Obama has to send (more) troops into Afghanistan to fight evil, I'll pull for our guys to win, and I won't apologize for it," Keith said. "I'm an American, and I do pull for our team to fight evil."
His comments come the day after Obama traveled to Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize and defended his decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. "Make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world," Obama said in Thursday's speech.
The peace prize laureate normally attends the concert, which is held in his or her honor. Obama's seat, however, will remain empty. The president left the Norwegian capital early Friday morning, blaming a jammed schedule for cutting the usual three-day stay to just over 24 hours.
Norwegian parliamentarians and a former Norwegian Nobel Committee member criticized Keith's invitation.
"If Keith really means what he says in his lyrics, then this doesn't seem like a particularly good decision," Norwegian Labor MP Tove Karoline Knutsen told Norwegian daily VG in November.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee's permanent secretary, Geir Lundestad, has defended his appearance. "We need to include a wide variety of artists," he told broadcaster NRK shortly after the line-up was announced. "So, it's not like we can exclude conservative artists."
Keith said that "if someone wants to say that one song out of 30 million albums sold and 27 No. 1's is inappropriate, then you can jump up and down about the one song," apparently in reference to "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue."
Keith added that this was the second year in a row the Norwegian Nobel Committee had invited him to perform at the concert.
Keith spoke to journalists Friday alongside Nobel Concert hosts — movie star and rapper Will Smith and his wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith. Other artists, including British pop singer Natasha Bedingfield, also spoke at the event.
Smith, whose Thursday interview with Obama during the president's stay in Oslo will be shown at the concert Friday night, said he had no reservations about Obama's peace prize despite his status as an early first-term wartime president.
Whether Barack Obama as an individual deserved the prize was up for debate, he said. "But Barack Obama as an idea has transcended so many avenues that there's positively no debate that he deserved this honor," he said.