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Obama says Nobel Peace Prize is 'a call to action'

The Nobel committee cites Obama's 'extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy.' The president says the award 'must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity.'

October 09, 2009|By Mark Silva

Reporting from Washington — President Obama, who has pledged to place diplomacy ahead of confrontation and reached out to a skeptical world with offers of mutual understanding, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace today for what the Nobel committee called "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

"I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century," Obama said in a White House Rose Garden appearance. "This award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity."

Professing humility and surprise in the awarding of the prize, the president said, "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership. . . .

"To be honest, 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," Obama said, suggesting that the prize has not always "been awarded just to honor specific achievements," but also to lend some momentum to the cause of peace. [FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this article left out the word "common" in Obama's quote and incorrectly quoted him as saying "a recognition of American leadership" instead of "an affirmation of American leadership."]

The White House announced this afternoon that Obama has decided to give the approximately $1.4 million that comes with the prize to charity, though no decision had been made on which charity or charities.

The president plans to travel to the Nobel Prize award ceremony, the White House said. The prize will be awarded at Oslo City Hall in Norway on Dec. 10.

Obama is only the third sitting U.S. president to win the Nobel Prize for Peace -- President Theodore Roosevelt won the award in 1906, President Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

The president was nominated for the prize after just weeks in office, with the award after less than nine months into the president's term a sign that the Norwegian Nobel Committee is recognizing aspirations for peace over achievements.

The committee hailed the president's creation of "a new climate in international politics."

Ironically, the award arrives at a time when Obama is weighing the recommendation of the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan to deploy tens of thousands of additional troops in a war now 8 years old. At the same time, the president, who campaigned with a promise to withdraw American forces from Iraq, is in the process of drawing down forces there, planning to pull out combat forces by next year and all troops by 2011.

As he left a sun-splashed Rose Garden this morning in celebration of the prize, the president was headed to another in a series of meetings with top-ranking military leaders and national security advisors, as Obama prepares for a long-awaited decision about the way forward in Afghanistan.

"We have to confront the world as we know it today," the president said in the Rose Garden. "I am the commander in chief of a country that is responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary who directly [threatens] the American people and our allies."

The prize recognizes the voiced objectives of a president who campaigned with promises to reengage the U.S. in world affairs and has personally reached out to erstwhile adversaries.

"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," Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel committee, said. "In the past year, Obama has been a key person for important initiatives in the U.N. for nuclear disarmament and to set a completely new agenda for the Muslim world and East-West relations."

The committee was endorsing the American president's "appeal that 'Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges,' " he said.

Yet Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was quick to criticize the president's prize.

"The real question Americans are asking is, 'What has President Obama actually accomplished?' " Steele said in a statement. "It is unfortunate that the president's star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights."

Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who called the prize another "embarrassment" for Obama after the International Olympic Committee's rejection of Chicago for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games, suggested that Obama will be hard-pressed to deploy more troops to Afghanistan.

"This actually makes total sense when you look at who these Nobel people are, these elite Norwegians, Europeans," Limbaugh said in his daily radio commentary. "This is a greater embarrassment than losing the Olympics bid was. . . .

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