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Obama's Peace Prize:  Just Reward Or Premature Recognition?

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The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama came as a surprise to most everyone. Few analysts thought a world leader with less than a year in office would win the world's most prestigious peace award. Many believe the award was given to the president more for attitude than achievement.

The award citation, read by Nobel committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland speaks glowingly of Mr. Obama's new approach to foreign policy.

"Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics," he said. "Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts," he said.

Many analysts interpreted that as an implicit rebuke to Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, over his handling of the war in Iraq.

President Obama is struggling to find a new strategy for Afghanistan and a way to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power. He has repeatedly said he favors engagement. But does a Nobel Prize translate into political capital in world capitals? Not necessarily, say analysts.

John Tirman, executive director of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says being a Nobel laureate is of only marginal benefit at the negotiating table.

"As far as other capitals are concerned and other world leaders and things as specific as Iran sanctions, I'm not sure that it carries quite as much weight because national interests tend to trump these kinds of symbolic gestures," he said. "But it certainly doesn't hurt. I think it makes people regard him with more respect, at least in the short term," he said.

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Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution agrees, but adds that it is too soon to know if the Obama approach will yield concrete results.

"It doesn't tend to solve you any problems right away. It may create you a context in which it is a little easier to have negotiation," he said. "But I think the [Nobel] committee made a mistake in giving the prize so soon, frankly, because it somewhat discredits and cheapens the whole notion of the Peace Prize because we haven't yet seen if this Obama approach really is going to make a difference in solving problems. All we know is that it's created a little bit better atmosphere for discussing them," he added.

Public opinion polls show a sharp improvement in attitudes towards the United States since Mr. Obama took office in January. O'Hanlon believes the Nobel Committee was blinded by the president's near-pop star status in some countries, and that the young president has no real achievements that merit such an award.

"I think that they have bought into the [presidential] campaign, bought into the rhetoric, bought into the image. All that's fine. I just wished they had exercised a little more restraint in judging whether that yet merited this kind of an achievement award. This Nobel Peace Prize has historically been about actual achievements," said O'Hanlon.

But MIT's John Tirman says the Nobel Peace Prize is different from the other Nobel awards, such as chemistry or literature.

The Nobel Peace Prize is clearly a symbolic gesture. Unlike their other prizes, which actually honor concrete achievements, this tends to be about the political moment, about aspirations rather than achievements. And I think in that sense it's appropriate," he said.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to personally accept his Nobel Peace Prize at the December 10 awards ceremony in Oslo. White House officials say he will donate his $1.4 million prize money to charity.