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Last updated: October 9, 2009 5:14 pm
Barack Obama on Friday received the Nobel peace prize just 263 days after taking office, triggering praise and incredulity across the world over a decision that rewards him more for promise than achievement.
The US president said he was “surprised and humbled” by the Nobel committee’s decision, adding that he felt unworthy to be counted among the “transformative figures” of history who had previously won the prize.
However, the $1.4m award was also seen as something of a challenge to Mr Obama, with his critics arguing that he has so far failed to secure a clear foreign policy success.
The Nobel Committee praised Mr Obama for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”, citing his fledgling push for nuclear disarmament and his reaching out to the Muslim world.
The award took the White House by surprise. Asked by a US media organisation to comment on the news, Robert Gibbs, the president’s spokesman, e-mailed back the word: “Wow.”
The decision was welcomed by world leaders. Angela Merkel, the newly re-elected German chancellor, said Mr Obama had rapidly changed the tone of international diplomacy towards dialogue. “There is still much left to do, but a window of possibility has been opened,” she said.
But others were dismissive of the decision to reward a president who has has yet to score any breakthrough in the Middle East or halt Iran’s nuclear programme – and who may soon be sending thousands more troops to war in Afghanistan.
Lech Walesa, Poland’s former president and a Nobel laureate himself, said it was too early to bestow the award on the 48-year-old US president. “Who, Obama? So fast? For the time being Obama’s just making proposals. But sometimes the Nobel Committee awards the prize to encourage responsible action.”
Hisham Qasim, an Egyptian human rights activist, said he was “shocked” Mr Obama had won.
“He has achieved nothing. He’s stumbling. He hasn’t achieved any of his promises and nothing is working.”
Mr Obama is the third senior US Democrat to win the prize this decade. Former US vice-president Al Gore won in 2007 along with the United Nations climate panel, and Mr Carter won in 2002.
• Norwegians oversee decision
The decision to award the Peace Prize to Barack Obama was made by a five-member Norwegian committee, appointed by the parliament in Oslo. All five are current or former politicians drawn from Norway’s four biggest parties.
The body is chaired by Thorbjorn Jagland, a former prime minister for the ruling Labour party.
The Peace Prize is the only Nobel award handled by the Norwegian committee. All the other awards are decided by institutions in Alfred Nobel’s native Sweden. He allocated the responsibilities in his will without any explanation for why Norway should oversee the Peace Prize.
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