(For a TAKE-A-LOOK on Obama’s prize, click on [ID:nL9168920])
* Most recipients win based on body of work
* Little signs of movement on major challenges
* Tribute to his work and promise
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Every U.S. president secretly harbors dreams of winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
Before Friday, only three had done so. And now President Barack Obama has the honor -- and the burden -- of living up to its expectations.
Obama was rousted out of his sleep at the White House before dawn on Friday to get the surprising news that, nine months in office, he was a Nobel laureate.
Most recipients win the award based on a body of work. President Theodore Roosevelt successfully mediated the 1904-05 Japan-Russia war. Former Vice President Al Gore won in 2007 for his work drawing attention to global climate change.
President Bill Clinton, by contrast, has not won despite a history of working for peace while in office and afterward.
Woodrow Wilson in 1919 and Jimmy Carter in 2002 were the two other U.S. presidents who won the award for their work toward world peace.
There was a recognition at the White House that the award for Obama was an unexpected achievement for someone who has only been in office such a short time.
"Yes it’s unusual," Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, told MSNBC, his voice groggy from the early hour.
Obama, he said, "would trade every award as humbling and important as this one is for the dissolution of nuclear arsenals" and "to get our economy moving in a way that creates more jobs and more opportunities."
Obama had been nominated for the Nobel less than two weeks after taking office in January, when millions at home and around the world were captivated by his "Yes We Can" presidential campaign.
Since then, he has seen how difficult the challenges facing him will be to untangle.
North Korea and Iran are showing little sign of giving up nuclear ambitions. His efforts to bring the parties together in the Middle East have borne little fruit.
He is still leading a country at war on two fronts -- in Iraq and Afghanistan. He got the Nobel news on the same day he was to meet top war advisers to determine whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
At home, Americans are divided over his signature domestic priority, a U.S. healthcare overhaul, and they worry over the weak economy. His job approval numbers have hovered around 50 percent, down from his January highs of 68 percent, although they have begun to tick upward in the past few weeks.
Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political science professor, said it was odd for Obama to win the award because of his thin record.
"It adds to his prestige and gives him some additional clout internationally and maybe even in pushing healthcare reform," he said. "But it also strikes most people as ridiculously premature."
The Nobel committee in Oslo credited Obama with creating a new climate in international politics by emphasizing multilateral diplomacy.
That is a tribute to his work thus far and his promise for the future.
Upon taking office he moved quickly to try to repair America’s image abroad after the war presidency of George W. Bush, by prohibiting the use of torture and ordering the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed.
Last month, he chaired a special U.N. Security Council meeting to work to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
Democratic supporters of Obama were ecstatic at the award.
"It validates the president’s approach to tough transnational challenges such as global warming and the spread of nuclear arms. And it celebrates his steady efforts to improve America’s standing around the world," said Democratic Representative Howard Berman.
There was one school of thought around Washington that the Nobel committee gave Obama the award as a final dagger tossed at Bush, who was unpopular in Europe.
"People can read into it whatever they want," said former Bush spokesman Tony Fratto. "But when you’re awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and the first question everyone asks is ‘for what?’ then you have to question what the motives of the Nobel committee are in making the award."
Obama, speaking to the U.N. General Assembly at his first appearance there last month, noted his work is only beginning.
"I have been in office for just nine months, though some days it seems a lot longer," Obama told world leaders. "I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency." (Editing by David Storey)