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| | A Humbled President Wins the Nobel Peace Prize
In a surprise move, the Nobel Committee awards President Barack Obama its highest honor. Many reactions followed, from disbelief to congratulations around the world. But, it is his efforts towards Middle East peace, nuclear disarmament and world co-operation in world problems that were the reasons cited for this prestiegeous award.
Read the full story from the NY Times.
| Surprise Nobel for Obama Stirs Praise and Doubts |
By STEVEN ERLANGER and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
Published: October 9, 2009
The choice of Barack Obama on Friday as the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, less than nine months into his eventful presidency, was an unexpected honor that elicited praise and puzzlement around the globe.
Normally the prize has been presented, even controversially, for accomplishment. This prize, to a 48-year-old freshman president, for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” seemed a kind of prayer and encouragement by the Nobel committee for future endeavor and more consensual American leadership.
But the prize quickly loomed as a potential political liability — perhaps more burden than glory — for Mr. Obama. Republicans contended that he had won more for his star power and oratorical skills than for his actual achievements, and even some Democrats privately questioned whether he deserved it.
The Nobel committee’s embrace of Mr. Obama was viewed as a rejection of the unpopular tenure, in Europe especially, of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
But the committee, based in Norway, stressed that it made its decision based on Mr. Obama’s actual efforts toward nuclear disarmament as well as American engagement with the world relying more on diplomacy and dialogue.
“The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world,” the Nobel committee chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, said in Oslo after the announcement. “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”
Still, Mr. Obama, who was described as “very surprised” when he received the news, said he himself was not quite convinced, adding that the award “deeply humbled” him.
“To be honest,” the president said in the Rose Garden, “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, men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.”
He said, though, that he would “accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century.” Mr. Obama plans to travel to Oslo to accept the award on Dec. 10. He will donate the prize money of $1.4 million to charity, the White House said.
Mr. Obama, only the third sitting American president to win the award, is suddenly put in the company of world leaders like Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who won for helping end the cold war, and Nelson Mandela, who sought an end to apartheid.
But less prominent figures have also won the award.
The reaction inside the administration was one of restraint, perhaps reflecting the awkwardness of winning a major prize amid a worldwide debate about whether it was deserved.
Republicans in Washington, reacting in disbelief, sought to portray Mr. Obama as unworthy. In an official statement, Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said, “The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?’ “
But there was much praise as well, even if Mr. Obama’s allies worried that the prize might be a liability and even if much of the praise came from Europe, giving ammunition to conservatives who say Mr. Obama cares too much about opinion there.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said the award marked “America’s return to the hearts of the world’s peoples,” while Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said it was an “incentive to the president and to us all” to do more for peace.
“In a short time he has been able to set a new tone throughout the world and to create a readiness for dialogue,” she said.
For a world that at times felt pushed around by a more unilateralist Bush administration, the prize for Mr. Obama seemed wrapped in gratitude for his willingness to listen and negotiate, as well as for his positions on climate change and nuclear disarmament.
Last year’s laureate, former President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, saw the award as an endorsement of Mr. Obama’s goal of achieving Middle East peace.
“Of course, this puts pressure on Obama,” he said. “The world expects that he will also achieve something.”
The prize, announced as official Washington — including the president — was asleep, caught the White House off guard.
The first word of it came in the form of an e-mail message to the White House staff from the White House Situation Room, which monitors events worldwide around the clock, at 5:09 a.m. It carried the subject line “item of interest.”
Shortly before 6 a.m., the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, telephoned Mr. Obama, awakening him to share the news.
“There has been no discussion, nothing at all,” said the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
The award comes at a time of considerable challenges for the president, with few sweeping achievements so far.
On the domestic front, he is pressing Congress to overhaul the nation’s health care system. In foreign affairs, he is wrestling with his advisers over how to chart a new course in Afghanistan and has been working, with little movement, to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Rose Garden appearance was an example of Mr. Obama’s heavy workload; it was squeezed into a day that already included his regular intelligence and economic briefings, a private meeting with a senator, lunch with the vice president, a major speech outlining plans for a new consumer protection agency and a strategy session on Afghanistan with his national security team.
Announcing the award, the Nobel committee cited Mr. Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” and said that he had “created a new climate in international politics.”
In a four-paragraph statement, it praised Mr. Obama for his tone, his preference for negotiation and multilateral diplomacy and his vision of a cooperative world of shared values, shorn of nuclear weapons.
“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,” the committee 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.”
The other sitting American presidents to be given the award were Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, for negotiating an end to a war between Russia and Japan, and Woodrow Wilson in 1919, for the Treaty of Versailles.
Former President Jimmy Carter won in 2002 for his efforts over decades to spread peace and development. Mr. Carter called the award to Mr. Obama “a bold statement of international support for his vision and commitment.”
Former Vice President Al Gore won in 2007, sharing the prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for his work on climate change. Mr. Gore called Mr. Obama’s award “well deserved” on Friday.
Mr. Obama has generated considerable goodwill overseas, with polls showing him hugely popular, and he has made a series of speeches with arching ambition. He has vowed to pursue a world without nuclear weapons; reached out to the Muslim world, delivering a major speech in Cairo in June; and sought to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, at the expense of offending some of his Jewish supporters.
But he has had to devote a great deal of his time to the economic crisis and other domestic issues, and many of his policy efforts are only beginning.
In addition to the challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the situation in Iraq is extremely fragile; North Korea has staged missile tests; Iran continues to enrich uranium in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions, though it recently agreed to restart nuclear talks; Israel has resisted a settlement freeze; and Saudi Arabia has refused to make new gestures toward the Israelis.
Ahmed Youssef, a Hamas spokesman, congratulated Mr. Obama but said the prize was based only on good intentions. Muhammad al-Sharif, a politically independent Gazan, was incredulous. “Has Israel stopped building the settlements?” he asked. “Has Obama achieved a Palestinian state yet?”
The Nobel committee did not tell Mr. Obama in advance of the announcement, said its chairman, Mr. Jagland. “Waking up a president in the middle of the night,” he said, “this isn’t really something you do.”
Steven Erlanger reported from Paris, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Walter Gibbs from Oslo, Alan Cowell from London, Nicholas Kulish from Berlin, Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem, and Taghreed El-Khodary from Gaza.
Congratulations to President Barack Obama!