Barack Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize
By WALTER GIBBS and ALAN COWELL
Published: October 9, 2009
OSLO — In a stunning surprise, the Nobel Committee announced Friday that it had awarded its annual peace prize to President Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” less than nine months after he took office.
“He has created a new international climate,” the committee said in its announcement. With American forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama’s name had not figured in speculation about the winner until minutes before the prize was announced here.
Likely candidates had been seen here as including human rights activists in China and Afghanistan and political figures in Africa.
But the committee said it wanted to enhance Mr. Obama’s diplomatic efforts so far rather than reward him for events in the future.
Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and a former prime minister of Norway, told reporters that Mr. Obama had already contributed enough to world diplomacy and understanding to deserve the prize.
Asked whether the prize was given too early in Mr. Obama’s presidency, he said: “We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future but for what he has done in the previous year. We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.”
The prize was announced as the Obama administration wrestles with global crises from the Middle East to Iran to southwest Asia while American military forces are still deployed in large numbers in Iraq and the White House is considering whether to increase troop levels in Afghanistan.
Mr. Obama has appealed for reductions in nuclear arsenals and is seeking to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
But he also confronts challenges from Iran amid fears that Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapon — charges Iran denies.
Mr. Jagland said the conflict in Afghanistan “concerns us all. We do hope an improvement in the international climate could help resolve that.” Mr. Jagland had been asked by a reporter whether Mr. Obama’s selection for the award was intended to influence the American debate on troops levels in Afghanistan.
Looking back on the Obama presidency so far, Mr. Jagland said: “One of the first things he did was to go to Cairo to try to reach out to the Muslim world, then to restart the Mideast negotiations and then he reached out to the rest of the world through international institutions. “
He mentioned in particular the recent United Nations Security Council meeting on nuclear disarmament and the announcement of the prize noted the special importance the Nobel committee attached to President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
“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,” the committee said.
President Obama was the third leading American Democrat to win the prize in 10 years, following former Vice President Al Gore in 2007 along with the United Nations climate panel and former President Jimmy Carter in 2002.
The last sitting American president to win the prize was Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Theodore Roosevelt was selected in 1906 while in the White House and Mr. Carter more than 20 years after he left office.
The prize was won last year by the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari for peace efforts in Africa and the Balkans.
The prize is worth the equivalent of $1.4 million and is to be awarded in Oslo on Dec. 10.
The full citation read: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”
“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. 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 United States 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.”
“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,” the citation said.
“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.’”
There was no immediate reaction from the White House about the announcement, which drew a mixed reception in some parts of the world.
In Gaza, however, a leader of the militant Islamic Jihad, Khaled Al-Batsh, condemned it, saying the award “shows these prizes are political, not governed by the principles of credibility, values and morals,” Reuters said.
“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?”
Walter Gibbs reported from Oslo, and Alan Cowell from London. Richard Berry contributed from Paris.