Accepting Nobel, Obama vows to pursue Mideast peace
Obama 'surprised and deeply humbled' by 2009 Nobel Peace Prize win, plans to give cash to charity.
U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated on Friday his commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in a short speech he made during which he expressed surprise over winning the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
"We must all do our part to resolve those conflicts that have caused so much pain and hardship over so many years," Obama told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.
"And that effort must include an unwavering commitment that finally realizes that the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in nations of their own."
Obama said he accepted the honor as a call to action for nations to confront the challenges of the century.
"I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel committee," he said. "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."
Obama will travel to Oslo, Norway, in December to accept the award on the birthday of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite whose will established the award series in his name. The prize includes a cash award this year of $1.4 million, which the White House said Obama will donate to charity.
Obama, 48, is the third U.S. president to win the prize while in office, after Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919.
In its surprise choice, the Norwegian Nobel Committee cited the president's creation of a new climate in international politics and his work on nuclear disarmament, even though he is just nine months into his presidency.
"These challenges cannot be met by any one leader or any one nation," the president said. "That's why my administration wants to establish a new era of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek."
Obama acknowledged that, while accepting an award for peace, he was commander in chief of a country engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We have to confront the world as we know it," he said.
He said he was working to end the war in Iraq to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies in Afghanistan.
"I'm also aware that we are dealing with the impact of a global economic crisis that has left millions of Americans looking for work," he said. "This award must be shared by everyone who strives for justice and dignity."
He said that some of his goals, including that of a world free from nuclear weapons, might not be accomplished in his lifetime.
Obama said he was aware that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; It has also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.
The award took Obama and his staff by surprise. Press secretary Robert Gibbs learned from reporters that Obama had been chosen for the 2009 prize and telephoned the White House early Friday to pass along the news to his boss.
"Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning," Obama said. He described his interaction with his two daughters.
"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."
Bo is the family dog.
The decision to bestow one of the world's top accolades on a president less than nine months into his first term, who has yet to score a major foreign policy success, was greeted with gasps of astonishment from journalists at the announcement in Oslo.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Obama for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". But critics - especially in parts of the Arab and Muslim world - called its decision premature.
Obama's press secretary woke him with the news before dawn and the president felt "humbled" by the award, a senior administration official said.
When told in an email from Reuters that many people around the world were stunned by the announcement, Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, responded: "As are we."
The first African-American to hold his country's highest office, Obama, 48, has called for disarmament and worked to restart the stalled Middle East peace process since taking office in January.
"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 in a citation.
While the decision won praise from statesmen like Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev, both former Nobel laureates, it was also attacked in some quarters as hasty and undeserved.
Hamas: Obama has a long way to go still and lots of work to do
The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and opposes a peace treaty with Israel, said the award was premature at best.
"Obama has a long way to go still and lots of work to do before he can deserve a reward," said Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri. "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."
Issam al-Khazraji, a day labourer in Baghdad, said: "He doesn't deserve this prize. All these problems -- Iraq, Afghanistan -- have not been solved...The man of 'change' hasn't changed anything yet."
Liaqat Baluch, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative religious party in Pakistan, called the award an embarrassing "joke".
But the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, welcomed it and expressed hope that Obama "will be able to achieve peace in the Middle East".
Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland rejected suggestions from journalists that Obama was getting the prize too early, saying it recognised what he had already done over the past year.
"We hope this can contribute a little bit to enhance what he is trying to do," he told a news conference.
The committee said it attached "special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons", saying he had "created a new climate in international politics".
Without naming Obama's predecessor George W. Bush, it highlighted the differences in America's engagement with the rest of the world since the change of administration in January.
"Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.
"Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts," it said, and the United States was playing a more constructive role in tackling climate change.
Obama laid out his vision on eliminating nuclear arms in a speech in Prague in April. But he was not the first American president to set that goal, and acknowledged it might not be reached in his lifetime.
He is negotiating arms cuts with Russia, and last month dropped plans to base elements of a U.S. anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moscow had seen the scheme as a threat, despite U.S. assurances it was directed against Iran.
On other pressing issues, Obama is deliberating whether to send more troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, and is still searching for breakthroughs on Iran's disputed nuclear program and on Middle East peace.
Taliban: Obama should have won prize for escalating violence
Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday there was no chance of a peace deal for many years. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters: "The Nobel prize for peace? Obama should have won 'the Nobel Prize for escalating violence and killing civilians'."
At home, Obama's popularity is flagging under the pressure of rising unemployment and a divisive, sometimes bitter debate over his healthcare reform plans.
Abroad, he is still widely seen around the world as an inspirational figure.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who won the prize 1984, said Obama's award shows great things are expected from him in the coming years.
In a way, it's an award coming near the beginning of the first term of office of a relatively young president that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all, he said. It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope.
He said the prize is a wonderful recognition of Obama's effort to reach out to the Arab world after years of hostility.
Another former Nobel winner, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, said Obama has already provided outstanding leadership in the effort to prevent nuclear proliferation.
In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself, ElBaradei said. He has shown an unshakable commitment to diplomacy, mutual respect and dialogue as the best means of resolving conflicts. He has reached out across divides and made clear that he sees the world as one human family, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity.
Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who had been tipped as a favorite for the prize, told Reuters that Obama was a deserving candidate and an "extraordinary example".
Obama's uncle Said Obama told Reuters by telephone from the president's ancestral village of Kogelo in western Kenya: "It is humbling for us as a family and we share in Barack's honor...we congratulate him."
Obama is the third senior U.S. Democrat to win the prize this decade after former Vice President Al Gore won in 2007 along with the UN climate panel and Jimmy Carter in 2002.
The prize worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.4 million) will be handed over in Oslo on Dec. 10.