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Saturday, October 10, 2009
Mixed World Reaction to Obama's Win
After recovering from their initial shock, leaders around the globe applauded Friday's surprise award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama, saying they hoped the prize would spur his efforts on nuclear disarmament and peacemaking in some of the world's most violent places.
Calling the honor "well-deserved," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen hailed Mr. Obama's "strong commitment to help build peace and defend fundamental human rights, including through the Atlantic alliance." Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called it "an unexpected but inspired choice."
But reaction to the news was mixed both at home and abroad, with some critics calling the award political and others calling it premature. At least one former Peace Prize laureate said that the president - nominated for the prize just days after he entered the White House in January - had not earned the honor.
"Who? Obama? So fast? Too fast - he hasn't had the time to do anything yet," said Poland's Lech Walesa, the 1983 winner who spent a year in jail after he helped found Solidarity, the Soviet bloc's first independent trade union.
"For the time being, Obama's just making proposals," Mr. Walesa said.
Mr. Obama himself seemed slightly nonplussed speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden just hours after press secretary Robert Gibbs woke him at 6 a.m. to deliver the startling news from Oslo. Mr. Obama is the third U.S. president to receive the award while in office, following Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
"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," Mr. Obama said.
"To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize - men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace," he said.
The White House said Mr. Obama would donate the $1.4 million cash award that accompanies the prize to an unnamed charity, and confirmed that he would travel to Oslo on Dec. 10 to accept the honor.
In the hours after five Norwegians, four women and one man, put the fledgling U.S. president in the same class as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel, Mikhail Gorbachev and Mother Teresa, effusive praise came from European capitals, where the new American leader is much more popular than his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the award an "incentive to the president and to us all" to do more for peace, adding that "his engagement for a world free of nuclear weapons is a goal that we must all try to achieve in the coming years."
"In a short time," she said, "he has been able to set a new tone throughout the world and to create a readiness for dialogue."
Newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he saw "the world changing" since Mr. Obama entered the White House on Jan. 20 - just 11 days before the Nobel Peace Prize Committee deadline for candidate submissions.
"I am really pleased. I want to congratulate him from my heart," Mr. Hatoyama said on a visit to China, which issued no official statement on the award.
Critics also quickly made known their scorn for the Peace Prize choice, which came as Mr. Obama and his military advisers weigh sending tens of thousands of more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to escalate a 8-year-old war.
In Afghanistan, Taliban militia spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the prize, saying, "We have seen no change in his strategy for peace. He has done nothing for peace in Afghanistan."
The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said the U.S. leader did not deserve the award.
"He did not do anything for the Palestinians except make promises," Hamas spokesman Samir Abu Zuhri said. "At the same time, he is giving his absolute support for the [Israeli] occupation."
Cuba piled on. The Nobel rewarded Mr. Obama's "promises and good intentions ... with only nine months in power and little concrete results to show," said the official Cubadebate Web site, to which longtime leader Fidel Castro regularly contributes opinion articles.
Mr. Obama "has begun pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, but America remains mired on the Afghan front, where the situation is deteriorating rapidly and more civilians are dying now than ever," Cubadebate said. "His attempts at peace in the Middle East, which became one of his priorities, are stalled."
But Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said he hoped the award would help bring about an independent Palestinian state, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the award "expresses the hope that your presidency will usher in a new era of peace and reconciliation."