The Nobel Committee in Oslo stunned the world Friday by awarding President Obama its coveted prize for peace, citing his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
The announcement was unexpected considering Mr. Obama received the award after winning the presidential election just nine months earlier and taking office only weeks before the Feb. 1 nomination deadline.
During the press conference to announce the winner, gasps filled the room when Mr. Obama’s name was announced in Norwegian by Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee said. Moments later, the announcement was made again in English.
The five-member Nobel committee said it placed special importance on Mr. Obama’s “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”
“Obama has, as president, created a new climate in international politics,” the committee said. “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. 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.”
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The president was awakened on Friday morning with the news.
“I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee,” Mr. Obama said at a late-morning, hastily arranged appearance in the White House Rose Garden.
Mr. Obama said he would accept the unexpected honor of the Nobel Prize for Peace, saying the award is “about the courageous efforts of people around the world” and so it must be shared.
“Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments,” he said. “But rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.”
The president continued: “To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.
“But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build — a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know that
throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action — a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.”
Mr. Obama began his remarks with an attempt to be self-effacing about the honor. He explained he was awaken with news of the honor, and immediately confronted with more immediate family concerns, including word of his dog’s birthday and his daughter’s observation that they were on the cusp of a three-day weekend.
“It’s good to have kids to keep things in perspective,” he said.
Mr. Obama becomes the third U.S. sitting president to win the award. President Theodore Roosevelt won in 1906 and President Woodrow Wilson won in 1919. Mr. Roosevelt drew up the 1905 peace treaty between Russia and Japan. Mr. Wilson founded the League of Nations. Jimmy Carter won the award in 2002, more than 20 years after his presidency, for “decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development,” the committee said.
Mr. Obama, in winning the award, joins such other world leaders as Nelson Mandela, who won in 1993; Russia President Mikhail Gorbachev, who won in 1990 for helping end the Cold War; India missionary Mother Teresa, 1979; Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 1973; and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964.
The committee also said Mr. Obama’s “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. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
“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. 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.’ ”
When Mr. Jagland convened a press conference to discuss the decision to present the award to Mr. Obama, reporters’ first reaction was to press him to explain the reasons Mr. Obama had been selected over human rights activists and other veteran political luminaries who have a lifetime body of work toward peace.
Mr. Jagland responded by saying that Mr. Obama had already contributed enough to world diplomacy and understanding to deserve the prize, according to published reports.
Reporters covering the awards were not the only ones to express surprise. In Washington, the president’s political allies and his detractors both began assessing the meaning of the award.
Some Republicans were incredulous, noting that one of the chief justifications the committee used in making its decision involved an effort undertaken by President Bush — ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
Mr. Bush helped foster the decline in the total number of nuclear warheads held by the U.S., Russia, U.K., China, and France from 52,972 in 1992 to 23,375 in 2009. During that period, Mr. Bush also helped secure the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all United Nations members to take and enforce actions against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the White House created a Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and the Nuclear Materials Information Program, and the nation helped in the exposure of the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network.
Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist, said the Nobel committee was acknowledging Mr. Obama’s vision for the world, and “the courage of the American people to support that leadership.”
It “represents a real turning point in the way America is viewed in the world once again as a leader in confronting critical global issues like climate change and nuclear weapons willing to engage and work with our allies, rather than a bully pursuing a destructive my-way-or-the-highway agenda that actually made America less safe,” Ms. Finney said.
The award comes at a time when the Obama administration has been trying to tout the president’s success at repairing the nation’s image overseas. That effort took a blow last week when the president traveled to Copenhagen to try and secure an Olympic bid for Chicago, but was rejected in the opening round of voting.
Last week, the White House attempted to change the narrative by circulating a Roper poll that showed the American “global image” had undergone a dramatic rebound as a result of the change in political leadership.
Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary to President Clinton, said he does not think the Nobel award will have a lasting impact on Mr. Obama’s political standing, at least with American voters, any more than did the Olympic debacle. He said the award was more likely a repudiation of the more militaristic posture of the Bush administration.
“I think it’s a recognition of a fundamental change of approach to dealing with diplomacy and national security,” Mr. Lockhart said. “My guess is the committee rejected the unilateral military first approach of [President] Bush and is recognizing the more enlightened, multilateral Obama approach.”
Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a Colombian senator, a Chinese dissident and an Afghan woman’s rights activist were among the record 205 nominations this year, according to the Associated Press.
According to Nobel Foundation statutes, information about the nominees and nominators cannot be disclosed for 50 years. The restriction also applies to investigations and opinions in awarding the prizes.