WASHINGTON - JUNE 23: U.S. President Barack Obama smiles during a news conference in the James S. Brady Briefing Room of the White House June 23, 2009 in Washington, DC. Obama discussed the high cost of health care, energy independence and the post-election disputes in Iran before taking questions from the news media. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Barack Obama
In a development that seemed to leave him as stunned as his critics, President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for pledging to rid the world of nuclear weapons and his efforts to boost international diplomacy.
"To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have won this prize," Obama said from the White House hours after the announcement from Norway. "I am both surprised and deeply humbled."
Obama was nominated just two weeks after taking office, and in accepting the award on behalf of "everyone who strives for justice and dignity," he acknowledged the award seemed to honor him more for his aspirations than for tangible accomplishments. The prize committee seemed to recognize as much.
"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."
"This is not how I expected to wake up this morning," Obama said, adding that he did not view it as a recognition of his own accomplishments, but as an "affirmation of American leadership."
Obama becomes just the fourth president or former president to win the award, after Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter, who won it in 2002. Former vice president Al Gore won the award in 2007. The prize is worth 10 million Swedish kronor, or about $1.4 million. Aides said Obama plans to donate the money to an unspecified charity.
Former Soviet Union premier Mikhail Gorbachev, also a Nobel Prize winner, said Obama was recognized for offering hope to a dangerous and divided world.
"I am happy," Gorbachev told Reuters. "What Obama did during his presidency is a big signal, he gave a hope. In these hard times people who are capable of taking responsibility, who have a vision, commitment and political will should be supported."
Other tributes have begun to pour in from world leaders. The chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat and Afghan President Hamid Karzai praised the decision. An aide to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told AFP that he hoped Obama would "remove injustice in the world."
But not all reaction was so positive.
The Wall Street Journal's Iain Martin called the decision "completely bizarre," given Obama's nascent track record. "A leader can now win the peace prize for saying that he hopes to bring peace at some point in the future," Martin wrote. "He doesn't actually have to do it, he just has to have aspirations."
"Obama has a long way to go still and lots of work to do before he can deserve a reward," Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters. "Obama only made promises and did not contribute any substance to world peace. And he has not done anything to ensure justice for the sake of Arab and Muslim causes."
The militant group Islamic Jihad and a spokesman for the Taliban also reportedly condemned the choice.
Obama's name had been mentioned as a possible candidate but many Nobel watchers believed it was too early to award the prize to a president who less than nine months into his first term.
Instead, Obama topped a record list of 205 nominations to the Nobel committee to become the third sitting U.S. president to win the award. Roosevelt won in 1906 and Wilson in 1919. Carter won the award in 2002, long after serving in the White House, for work as a mediator on international conflicts. Gore shared the 2007 prize with the U.N. panel on climate change.
In April, Obama asked for international help to reduce nuclear weapons during a speech in Prague. He repeated the call during meetings last month at the U.N.
"Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics," the committee said. "Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play."