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U.S. President Barack Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, less than nine months into his presidency. Even the administration was surprised by the news.
Mr. Obama says he is both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
"Let me be clear - 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," said President Obama.
Mr. Obama took office only 12 days before the February 1 nomination deadline. Some Nobel observers say the award is premature, considering that many of the president's diplomatic efforts have yet to produce results.
The president says he recognizes that the honor is a surprise to many people.
"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-men and women who have inspired me, and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace," said Mr. Obama. "But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build."
Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland says, however, Mr. Obama has captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future.
"If you look at the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, we have on many occasions tried to enhance what many personalities are trying to do," said Thorbjorn Jagland.
The Nobel committee specifically mentioned the president's outreach to the world's Muslims and his work for a world without nuclear weapons.
Jagland also credits Mr. Obama with creating "a new climate in international politics," by emphasizing multilateral diplomacy.
"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," he said.
The Nobel voters have, in recent years, chosen several winners who opposed the more unilateral foreign policy of Mr. Obama's predecessor, former President George W. Bush.
After awarding the 2002 Peace Prize to former President Jimmy Carter, the Nobel committee chairman said it should be seen as a "kick in the leg" to Mr. Bush's approach in the buildup to the Iraq war. In 2007, the committee honored Al Gore, Mr. Bush's opponent in the 2000 election, for his campaign to publicize global warming.
The Nobel committee's decision does not impress Mr. Obama's domestic political opponents. A statement from Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele says, in part, "It is unfortunate that the president's star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights."
Mr. Obama also acknowledged people around the world who work for peace.
"This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration," said President Obama. "It is about the courageous efforts of people around the world. And that is why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity."
The president was one of a record 205 nominees for this year's Peace Prize.
Mr. Obama is the third sitting U.S. president to win the prize, and the first since Woodrow Wilson in 1919.
He is also the third African-American to win the prestigious honor. Ralph Bunche, a high-ranking United Nations official, won the 1950 prize for mediating a peace accord between Israel and the Arab states over Palestine. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. won in 1964 for his work in the U.S. civil rights movement.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says Mr. Obama will travel to Oslo to accept the award on December 10. White House officials say he will donate the $1.4-million prize to charity.