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U.S. President Barack Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Barack Obama: U.S. president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate
(RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Barack Obama, who has been in office just 10 months, has said he doesn't think he deserved to win the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking at a press conference outside his White House office, he said he felt "humbled."

"To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize," he added.

Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland, who made the October 9 announcement in Oslo, said Obama was given the award "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

The committee cited his efforts in the areas of combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, fighting climate change, and promoting peace in greater Middle East.

Jagland said the U.S. president 'shares the values of most people in the world."

"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," Jagland said.

"His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."

In announcing the award, the Nobel Committee stressed that Obama had created a new climate for international diplomacy in which there is a new role for dialogue in resolving long-standing disputes.

The award was seen as a continuation of the Nobel Committee's practice of awarding prizes to people currently engaged in peace-promotion work, rather than simply recognizing past achievements.

Jagland stressed that Obama is now "the world's leading spokesman."

"For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman," Jagland said.

"The committee endorses Obama's appeal that now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."

Obama: 'A Call To Action'

In brief remarks following the announcement, Obama said he was as surprised as anyone to hear the news.

"This is not how I expected to wake up this morning," he said. "After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, 'Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo's birthday.' And then Sasha added, 'Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up.' So it's -- it's good to have kids to keep things in perspective."

He insisted that the award could not be in recognition of anything he has achieved thus far, and said he would consider it instead a "call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century."

Those challenges include halting the spread of nuclear weapons and finding a solution to the intractable Middle East conflict. Obama spoke of both during his remarks in the Rose Garden, including his desire to see Israelis and Palestinians living in peace and "in nations of their own."

But he admitted the work ahead will not be easy.

"Some of the work confronting us will not be completed during my presidency. Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons, may not be completed in my lifetime," he said. "But I know these challenges can be met, so long as it's recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone. "

He said he shared the award with "everyone who strives for justice and dignity."

This is the third time the award has been given to a sitting U.S. president. Woodrow Wilson won the award in 1919 and Theodore Roosevelt won it in 1908. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was given the honor in 2002.

Obama, 48, won the award from among a record 205 candidates. Among those earlier mentioned as possible winners were Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Chinese dissident Hu Jia, Colombian activist Piedad Cordoba, and Afghan doctor and human rights activist Sima Samar.

Obama will be formally given the award in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who endowed the awards. The prize includes a gold medal, a diploma, and a $1.4 million award.

World Mostly Surprised, Supportive

World reaction to the news was mostly surprise.

Obama has raised many hopes, yet his short time in office has not afforded him the chance to claim a diplomatic breakthrough.

"The New York Times" called the award a "stunning surprise."

The Nobel Committee's decision has generated a stream of optimistic and mostly positive reactions.

In a statement, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso congratulated Obama, saying the award was "a reflection of the hopes he has raised globally with his vision of a world without nuclear weapons."

Barroso also said the prize was "a recognition of the expectations created everywhere by President Obama's determination to work closely with the United States' partners to shape global responses to the global challenges we face today."

European leaders welcomed the news and commended the Nobel committee for choosing the U.S. leader.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in only 10 months in office, Obama has "succeeded in shifting the tone worldwide toward dialogue" and said he had opened "a window of possibility."

"His call for a world free of nuclear weapons is a goal we all should try to make reality in the coming years," she added. "Certainly it will encourage the American president, but also us all to help him."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the award puts pressure on Obama to deliver: "He will have to prove himself even more from now on."

Eastern Europe Mostly Pleased

Leaders from Eastern Europe have also added their congratulations, including former Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Yuriy Shcherbak, who said the award is "a recognition of his intentions, of his approach to the difficult inheritance he received when he was forced to make a huge turn in Washington policies after his predecessor, U.S. President George W. Bush."

Shcherbak added, "It's understandable for the whole world -- and Ukraine -- that policies built on force or so-called hard power and not on the soft power of ideas and diplomatic efforts had failed immensely."

Veton Surroi, an Albanian politician in Kosovo, said Obama is transforming the way the world thinks about peace.

"I think this time the committee has been proactive, that it has not only rewarded an action of peace by President Obama, but it is also encouraging that in the next few years of his term, and maybe his second term, he transforms the way peace has been dealt with in the 21st century," Surroi said.

The winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, said he believed the Nobel Committee had awarded the prize to Obama to "encourage" his Middle East peace efforts. He wished him "good luck."

The chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, welcomed the award to Obama and expressed hope that "he will be able to achieve peace in the Middle East."

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah also weighed in.

"We have been hearing speeches and statements from the American President Obama. At the time we said that we need more action and not words. Today he receives this award, and we hope that with this award there will be an imprint in American policy regarding the Palestinian people in their struggle with the occupiers and in what is happening today in occupied Jerusalem."

In Israel, President Shimon Peres said Obama has given people everywhere "permission to dream [of peace] again."

"Rarely did it happen, if at all, that a single leader in such a short while made such a profound impact upon the entire world, actually upon all of us and each of us," Peres said. "He provided us with the permission to dream again. He gave a license to a vision to become part of a diplomacy. And he called upon us to dream and to act responsibly. He made again peace the major agenda of our time."

Exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer said the award will raise expectations for Obama to "stand up for oppressed nations."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Obama was the "appropriate" person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The UN's nuclear watchdog chief, Muhammad el-Baradei, said he was "absolutely delighted" that Obama had been awarded this year's peace prize. El-Baradei said that in less than a year, Obama had "transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself."

An aide to Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, expressed the hope that the award would give Obama an incentive "to walk in the path of bringing justice to the world order."


Not everyone is pleased, though.

Muhammad Salih, the leader of Uzbekistan's Erk opposition party, said his hopes for Obama's leadership on human rights have already been disappointed.

"When Barak Obama became president, we were so happy since we thought that it would be the beginning of a completely new era, different from the Bush period. We thought his presidency would affect Central Asia for good that democracy and human rights would become a priority," Salih said.

"But on the contrary, Obama's administration did not raise these issues and improved his relations with the regime in Uzbekistan. And now as Obama got the Nobel Prize, he is leaving us with the hope that this symbolic gesture will affect his attitude toward antidemocratic regimes."

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, speaking to AFP from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan, condemned the choice, calling the award to Obama "unjust."

And Lech Walesa, who won the prize in 1983, asked whether Obama deserved the award so early in his tenure as president. He said Obama is "only beginning to act."

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz, Ukrainian, Uzbek, and Balkan services contributed to this report