President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for giving the world “hope for a better future” and striving for nuclear disarmament.
The decision to award one of the world’s top accolades to a president less than nine months into his first term, who has yet to score a major foreign policy success, came as a big surprise and provoked strong international criticism as well as praise.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Obama for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
The first African-American to hold his country’s highest office, Obama has called for disarmament and worked to restart the stalled Middle East peace process since taking office in January.
“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 a citation.
In a speech in Prague in April, Obama declared: “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
But he was not the first American president to set that goal, and acknowledged it might not be reached in his lifetime.
On other pressing issues, he faces hard decisions on the future of the war in Afghanistan and is still searching for breakthroughs on Iran’s disputed nuclear program and on the stalled Middle East peace process.
Israel’s foreign minister said on Thursday there was no chance of a peace deal for many years.
The chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, welcomed the award to Obama and expressed hope that “he will be able to achieve peace in the Middle East.”
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader and a Nobel Prize winner himself, said: “I am happy. What Obama did during his presidency is a big signal, he gave a hope. In these hard times people who are capable of taking responsibility, who have a vision, commitment and political will should be supported.”
But some Arab and Muslim reaction was fiercely critical.
“Obama’s winning the peace prize shows these prizes are political, not governed by the principles of credibility, values and morals,” said an Islamic Jihad leader, Khaled Al-Batsh.
“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?”
Issam al-Khazraji, a day laborer in Baghdad, said: “He doesn’t deserve this prize. All these problems — Iraq, Afghanistan — have not been solved…The man of ‘change’ hasn’t changed anything yet.”
Liaqat Baluch, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative religious party in Pakistan, said: “It’s a joke. How embarrassing for those who awarded it to him, because he’s done nothing for peace. What change has he brought in Iraq, the Middle East or Afghanistan?”
Obama is the third senior U.S. Democrat to win the prize this decade after former Vice President Al Gore won in 2007 along with the U.N. climate panel and Jimmy Carter in 2002.
The prize worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.4 million) will be handed over in Oslo on December 10.