APTOPIX South Africa Nobel Obama Reax
Schalk Van Zuydam  /  AP
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa says Obama's award is a "wonderful recognition" of his efforts to reach out to the Islamic world.
updated 10/9/2009 3:34:04 PM ET 2009-10-09T19:34:04

The choice of President Barack Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize was cheered Friday by a global chorus from European leaders to minibus passengers in Kenya — but it also elicited criticism over the decision to break with tradition and recognize hopeful promise over concrete achievement.

Obama is seen as having changed the direction of U.S. foreign policy, reversing many of his predecessor's unilateral policies and emphasizing the need for diplomacy, cooperation and mutual respect.

Last year's prize winner, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, said the Nobel committee wants to encourage Obama to push harder for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Of course, this puts pressure on Obama," he said. "The world expects that he will also achieve something."

Many admirers lauded the new president for his willingness to reach out to the Islamic world, his commitment to curtailing the spread of nuclear weapons and his goal of bringing the Israelis and Palestinians into serious, fruitful negotiations.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who won the prize in 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.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Nobel committee's decision to reward Obama's multilateral approach to the world was "great news."

"President Obama embodies the new spirit of dialogue and engagement on the world's biggest problems: climate change, nuclear disarmament and a wide range of peace and security challenges," Ban said.

In the Kenyan city of Kisumu, the home province of Obama's father, local radio shows interrupted broadcasting to have live phone-ins so callers could congratulate Obama on his win. Traders in the market huddled around hand-held radios and touts shouted the news from the windows of local minibuses.

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"When I heard it on the radio I said Hallelujah!" said 65-year-old James Andaro. "It's God's blessing. This win is for Africa."

'Hasty and too early'
But there was far less enthusiasm in countries where America's foreign policy is resented.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called the awarding of the prize "hasty and too early."

"We have no objection if this prize is an incentive to reverse the warmongering and unilateral policies of the previous U.S. administration and if this encourages a policy based on just peace," the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Mottaki as saying in an exclusive interview.

"The appropriate time for awarding such a prize is when foreign military forces leave Iraq and Afghanistan and when one stands by the rights of the oppressed Palestinian people," he was quoted as saying.

In the Gaza Strip, leaders of the radical Hamas movement said they have heard Obama's speeches seeking better relations with the Islamic world but have not been moved.

"We are in need of actions, not sayings," Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said. "If there is no fundamental and true change in American policies toward the acknowledgment of the rights of the Palestinian people, I think this prize won't move us forward or backward."

In Afghanistan, where U.S. forces are engaged in a war against Taliban insurgents, President Hamid Karzai praised the Nobel decision, but others seemed unimpressed.

A spokesman for Karzai said he hopes the peace prize "will ultimately lead to peace and stability in Afghanistan and our region."

Mixed reactions
Kabul resident Abdul Rasoul disagreed.

"The peace award which has been given to Barack Obama is not right because under Obama a lot of civilians have died here in the bombing," he said.

Other Afghans complained there has been no change in U.S. policy since Obama took over.

In Vienna, former Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 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."

Too soon for award?
Still, some said the award came too soon, in light of the lack of tangible progress toward the vital goals of bringing peace to the Middle East, persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions and improving relations with North Korea.

"The award is premature," said Eugene Rogan, director of the Middle East Center at Oxford University in England. "He hasn't done anything yet. But he's made clear from the start of his presidency his commitment to promote peace. No doubt the Nobel committee hopes the award will enhance his moral authority to advance the cause of peace while he's still president."

Massimo Teodori, one of Italy's leading experts of U.S. history, said the Nobel decision is a clear rejection of the "unilateral, antagonistic politics" of Obama's predecessor, George Bush.

"The prize is well deserved after the Bush years, which had antagonized the rest of the world," Teodori said. "President Obama's policy of extending his hand has reconciled the United States with the international community."

Reaction was far more muted in Pakistan, where many have criticized U.S. policies.

In Pakistan's central city of Multan, radical Islamic leader Hanif Jalandhri said he was neither happy nor surprised by Obama's award.

"But I do hope that Obama will make efforts to work for peace, and he will try to scrap the policies of Bush who put the world peace in danger," said Jalandhri, secretary general of a group that oversees 12,500 seminaries. "This prize has tripled Obama's responsibilities, and we can hope that he will try to prove through his actions that he deserved this honor."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Nobel prize surprise

  1. Closed captioning of: Nobel prize surprise

    >>> begins now.

    >>> good evening. the president was awakened at 6:00 a.m . and told he had just won the nobel peace prize . it was a stunner. it came out of nowhere. it is not the kind of thing he had applied for, nor did he know he was nominated. one white house staffer said he had to make sure this wasn't april 1st . a writer for "time" magazine calls it the last thing the president needs. it happened so fast and was so unexpected the white house had to figure out what to say. it's also one of the last remaining towering honors on earth. we start off our coverage tonight with our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell in washington. a lot to say tonight, andrea.

    >> reporter: indeed there is, brian. it was the kind of 6:00 a.m . wake-up call that surprised everyone, including the president of the united states . even barack obama 's most ardent admirers did not expect him to become a nobel laureate so soon after becoming president. you don't have to know norwegian to understand the gasps of surprise in oslo when the prize was awarded to barack obama .

    >> barack obama .

    >> reporter: the five-member nobel committee cited the president's efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. but to many the real message seemed to be europe likes the fact that america has a new leader and he is not george w. bush .

    >> obama has as president created a new international climate.

    >> reporter: six hours later in the oval office the president and his chief of staff were still trying to find the right note of humility for the occasion.

    >> 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.

    >> reporter: the president said he would accept the prize as a call to action but didn't deserve to be in the company of transformative past winners or even a legendary peacemaker like mahatma gandhi never won the prize. past recipients include two former sitting presidents, theodore roos welt and woodrow wilson , iconic figures like nelson mandela and mother theresa , and more controversial choices. yasser arafat , menachem begin , jimmy carter and henry kissinger . all chosen for their life's work. not nominated, as president obama was, 12 days after taking office. on msnbc's " morning joe " the reaction was more shock than awe.

    >> can you ever think of a nobel peace prize winner that has won this award for doing less than this president?

    >> reporter: people were surprised from cairo to the president's hometown of chicago.

    >> i think it would have -- it's too soon to award him a nobel prize . we could have waited a year or two.

    >> what? i was like, what for?

    >> surprised but okay, yeah, i could see that.

    >> reporter: in fact, president obama beat out 204 other nominees, a record number. congratulations poured in from past winners.

    >> it's an honor for him, first and foremost, of course, but it's an honor for our country. i think it's extremely well deserved.

    >> reporter: supporters point to the president's policy of diplomatic engagement with iran, north korea , and cuba.

    >> we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

    >> reporter: and his outreach to the muslim world . but his middle east diplomacy is stalled, and he is still fighting two wars.

    >> i think the president has commitment, he has priority, but he's facing galactic problems.

    >> reporter: the "new yorker's" george packer wrote on his blog, "not even a rookie of the year is ready to be elected to the hall of fame ." the white house has announced the president will donate the $1.4 million accompanying this prize to charity. and he will travel to oslo to accept it in december. brian?

    >> all right. andrea mitchell starting us off in our newsroom in washington on this stunner of a day. andrea, thanks. which all brings us to

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