09 Oct

Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

Surprise choice


Obama, right, has reached out diplomatically to the global community to end nuclear arms stocks [AFP]

Barack Obama, the US president, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009, less than a year after taking office.

The announcement was made on Friday in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, recognising Obama’s attempts to foster international peace and create a world without nuclear weapons.

A White House official said the US president felt “humbled” by the award.

The Nobel Committee said that Obama had made “extraordinary efforts in international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”.

Obama, 48, wins the award while still being the commander-in-chief of US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“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,” Thorbjoern Jagland, the head of the Nobel 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.

“Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics.

“Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.”

Surprise choice

The prize is worth $1.4m, which will be handed over on December 10.

The only US presidents to have won the award while in office were Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

Kristian Berg Harpviken, from the International Peace Research Institute, told Al Jazeera: “I was very surprised … On the other hand what I did expect this year was a daring prize.

“I mean by daring is a prize that went to somebody who is not only rewarded for past achievements but who actually stands in the midst of a historical engagement.

“In other words, I was expecting the committee to want to use the political weight of the prize to make a difference in the world. To award it to somebody who could take that political capital and run with it.”

Harpviken said that Obama is yet to achieve any of his major objectives on the global stage but added “what Obama has done is to give a breath of fresh air to international diplomacy and to multilateral collaboration.”

“He has done that but he has yet to prove that he can deliver. And on many of the concrete issues where he has made tall commitments and has high ambitions it is clear that the wind is not blowing his way and that it is going to be very difficult.”

Taliban criticism

Governments and world players began reacting to the announcement of the award on Friday.

The Taliban condemned the decision saying that Obama has “not taken a single step towards peace in Afghanistan”.However, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, congratulated Obama, calling the announcement “appropriate”.

An aide to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, said the award should prompt Obama to begin to end injustice in the world.

“We hope that this gives him the incentive to walk in the path of bringing justice to the world order,” Ali Akbar Javanfekr, Ahmadinejad’s media aide, said.

“We are not upset and we hope that by receiving this prize he will start taking practical steps to remove injustice in the world.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, the International Atomic Agency nuclear watchdog chief, said that he was “absolutely delighted” that Obama had won.

“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,” he said in a statement.

“I cannot think of anyone today more deserving of this honour.”

World Reaction to a Nobel Surprise

After less than nine months in office, President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a decision so astonishing that the audience in the Norwegian capital of Oslo gasped.

Reaction around the world was immediate, with many, including at least one former recipient of the award, wondering whether the prize could be premature. Other laureates and leaders hailed the decision. Those distrustful of America’s role in the world, however, said that the prize was akin to honoring the fox for watching over the henhouse. Here is a sampling of early reaction from the world over:


“Who, Obama? So fast? Too fast — he hasn’t had the time to do anything yet,” Lech Walesa told reporters in Warsaw, according to Agence France-Presse. Mr. Walesa, 65, received the prize in 1983 for his efforts to promote workers’ rights in Poland while it was under Communist rule.

“For the time being Obama’s just making proposals. But sometimes the Nobel committee awards the prize to encourage responsible action,” he said. “Let’s give Obama a chance.” Mr. Walesa served five years as Poland’s first democratically elected president after the collapse of Communism in 1989.


The director-general of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, who received the prize in 2005, said in a statement that he was “absolutely delighted,” adding: “I cannot think of anyone today more deserving of this honor. 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.”


Mr. Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who was awarded the prize in 1990, was quoted by the news agency Itar-Tass as saying, “In these hard times people who are capable of taking responsibility, who have a vision, commitment and political will should be supported.”


“Very few leaders if at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact,” President Shimon Peres of Israel said in a congratulatory letter to Mr. Obama. “You provided the entire humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a lord in heaven and believers on earth.”

Mr. Peres, who won the peace prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat in 1994 following the Oslo Accords, added: “Under your leadership, peace became a real and original agenda. And from Jerusalem, I am sure all the bells of engagement and understanding will ring again. You gave us a license to dream and act in a noble direction.”


Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who won the prize in 1984 for his efforts toward ending apartheid, said the award shows great things are expected from Mr. Obama.

“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,” Archbishop Tutu said. “It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama’s message of hope.”


Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai of Zimbabwe, who had been among the favorites to win this year, told Reuters: “I wish to congratulate President Obama. I think he is a deserving candidate.”


Nils Butenschon, director of the Norwegian Center for Human Rights at the University of Oslo and a well-known human rights champion in Norway, said the committee has risked the authority of the peace prize by awarding it to Mr. Obama before he has accomplished much of substance.

“It seems premature to me,” Mr. Butenschon said. “I think the committee should be very careful with the integrity of the prize, and in this case I don’t think we are in a position to really evaluate the full impact of what this candidate has achieved. Sometimes of course the prize is awarded to people who are in the process of making history, so to speak, but in this case I think it is too early to know that.”


“Good intentions are something and good deeds are something else,” said Mr. al-Ajmi, a former Minister of Information in Kuwait. “And creating reality is not achieved by good intentions; it is by good actions. And hopefully he will take some concrete actions with regards to the Middle East crisis by bringing about the awaited two-state solution. If not then he will not be worthy of winning this prize.”


On the streets of Cairo, there was a sense that the award was for Mr. Obama’s intentions, and, perhaps, a bit of wishful thinking regarding the implementation of those intentions.

“Love the dude, but all he’s done on the peace side of things is make a few nice speeches and not go to war with anyone else,” Ibrahim Assem, 32, who works as a portfolio manager at a London-based equity firm in Cairo. “They are handing him the Nobel Peace Prize because he isn’t George Bush.”


A leader of the militant Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Mr. Al-Batsh condemned the award, saying it “shows these prizes are political, not governed by the principles of credibility, values and morals,” Reuters reported.

“Why should Obama be given a peace prize while his country owns the largest nuclear arsenal on earth and his soldiers continue to shed innocent blood in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

Reporting was contributed by Walter Gibbs in Oslo, Norway; Mona el Naggar in Cairo, Egypt and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.

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Congratulations President Obama; now “run with it.”

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