Obama Says He’s ‘Surprised and Humbled’ by Nobel Prize
Article Tools Sponsored By
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and WALTER GIBBS
Published: October 9, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” a stunning honor that came less than nine months after he made United States history by becoming the country’s first African-American president.
The award, announced in Oslo by the Nobel Committee while much of official Washington — including the president — was still asleep, cited in particular the president’s efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
“He has created a new international climate,” the committee said.
For Mr. Obama, one of the nation’s youngest presidents, the award is an extraordinary recognition that puts him in the company of world leaders such as Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who won for helping to bring an end to the cold war, and Nelson Mandela, who sought an end to apartheid. But it is also a potential political liability at home; already, Republicans are criticizing the president, contending he won more for his “star power” than his actual achievements.
Appearing in the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama said he was ‘’surprised and deeply humbled” by the committee’s decision, and quickly put to rest any speculation that he might not accept the honor. Describing the award as an “affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations,” he said he would accept it as “a call to action.”
“To be honest,” the president said “I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize, men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.”
The news shocked people in Oslo — where an audible gasp escaped the audience when the decision was announced — and in Washington, where top advisers to Mr. Obama said they had no idea it was coming. The president was awakened shortly before 6 a.m. by his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who delivered the news.
“There has been no discussion, nothing at all,” said Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, in a brief early morning telephone interview.
The prize will be awarded in Oslo on Dec. 10, and the White House said Mr. Obama would attend the ceremony. But Mr. Gibbs said no decision had been made on how the president would spend the award money of roughly $1.4 million.
In perhaps a reflection of the awkwardness the prize has created within the White House, there was no air of celebration or flood of congratulatory telephone calls. Mr. Gibbs said he did not know if the president had heard from any of his predecessors. And the spokesman declined to share the president’s precise reaction to the news, saying only that Mr. Obama was “very surprised.”
In one sense, the award was a rebuke to the foreign policies of Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, some of which the president has sought to overturn. Mr. Obama made repairing the fractured relations between the United States and the rest of the world a major theme of his campaign for the presidency. Since taking office as president he has pursued a range of policies intended to fulfill that goal. He has vowed to pursue a world without nuclear weapons, as he did in a speech in Prague earlier this year; reached out to the Muslim world, delivering a major speech in Cairo in June; and sought to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“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,” the committee said in its citation. “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.”
But while Mr. Obama has generated considerable good will overseas — his foreign counterparts are eager to meet with him, and polls show he is hugely popular around the world — many of his policy efforts have yet to bear fruit, or are only just beginning to do so. North Korea has defied him with missile tests; Iran, however, recently agreed to restart nuclear talks, which Mr. Obama has called “a constructive beginning.”
In that sense, Mr. Obama is unlike past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize such as former President Jimmy Carter, who won in 2002 for what presenters cited as decades of “untiring efforts” to seek peaceful end to international conflicts. (Mr. Carter failed to win in 1978, as some had expected, after he brokered a historic peace deal between Israel and Egypt.)
Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and a former prime minister of Norway, said the president had already contributed enough to world diplomacy and international understanding to earn the award.
“We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year,” Mr. Jagland said. “We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.”
Reaction from around the world was mixed, with some leaders and analysts applauding the president’s peace initiatives and others saying the award seemed premature and based on good intentions rather than actual accomplishments