LONDON (Reuters) - A surprised world greeted the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama with a mixture of praise and skepticism on Friday.
In its announcement, the Norwegian Nobel Committee hailed Obama’s “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg made clear the award carried big expectations, saying: “This is a surprising, an exciting prize. It remains to be seen if he will succeed with reconciliation, peace and nuclear disarmament.”
Afghanistan’s Taliban mocked the choice, saying it was absurd to give it to Obama when he had ordered 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan this year.
“The Nobel prize for peace? Obama should have won the ‘Nobel Prize for escalating violence and killing civilians’,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Japanese President Yukio Hatoyama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both said the prize should encourage everyone to help Obama rid the world of nuclear weapons.
“I think the peace prize was given with such a hope,” Hatoyama told reporters on a visit to Beijing.
Merkel said Obama had shifted the tone toward dialogue in a very short time. “There is still much left to do, but a window of possibility has been opened,” she said in Leipzig.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Obama’s multilateralism. “His commitment to work through the United Nations gives the world’s people fresh hope and fresh prospects,” he told reporters.
In the Middle East, chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said the award could be a good omen for the region.
“We hope that he will be able to achieve peace in the Middle East and achieve Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders and establish an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital,” he told Reuters.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Obama had inspired many people. “I look forward to working closely with you in the years ahead to advance peace and to give hope to the peoples of our region who deserve to live in peace, security and dignity,” he wrote in an open letter congratulating Obama.
The Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and opposes a peace treaty with Israel, was more skeptical.
“Unless real and deep-rooted change is made in American policy toward recognizing the rights of the Palestinian people I would think such a prize would be useless,” Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip, told reporters after Friday prayers.
In Iraq, the government welcomed the award, saying Obama deserved it because he had led a dialogue with other nations.
Saleh al-Mutlaq, a senior Iraqi Sunni Muslim lawmaker, told Reuters: “Obama succeeded in making a real change in the policy of the United States — a change from a policy that was exporting evil to the world to a policy exporting peace and stability to the world.”
In Indonesia, Masdar Mas’udi, deputy head of the largest Muslim organization Nahdatul Ulama, said: “I think it’s appropriate because he is the only American president who has reached out to us in peace. On the issues of race, religion, skin color, he has an open attitude.”
In Pakistan, Liaqat Baluch, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative religious party, 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?”
In Lebanon, Hezbollah member of parliament Hassan Fadlallah said he had seen no signs of peace from Obama yet. “We were waiting for deeds, not words that soon vanish,” he said.
Officials in Moscow declined to comment on the news, which was given scant media coverage. Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the opposition Communist Party, said it sent a message to Obama not to start a war against Iran, which denies Western charges it is planning to build nuclear weapons.
“It is, in and of itself a down payment and a wish by Europe to support the U.S. president at a time when his popularity within his country has begun to drop,” Zyuganov said.
South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, awarded the prize in 1984, said the latest choice was “a magnificent endorsement for the first African American president in history.”
From Obama’s ancestral village of Kogelo in western Kenya his uncle Said Obama told Reuters: “It is humbling for us as a family and we share in Barack’s honor. We congratulate him.”
Poland’s Lech Walesa, former leader of the pro-democracy Solidarity trade union that toppled communism, thought it was too early. “So soon? This is too soon. He has not yet made a real input,” Walesa, who won the prize in 1983, told reporters. The prime minister of Sweden, which holds the six-month presidency of the European Union, said winning the Nobel Peace prize had raised the bar for Obama on delivering results at a climate change summit in December.
Asked at a news conference whether the U.S. president now faced unrealistic expectations to deliver on all aspects of his agenda, Fredrik Reinfeldt added: “Yes, you could say that.”
Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Denis Dyomkin in Moscow, Patrick Worsnip in New York, Missy Ryan in Baghdad, Nick Vinocur in Stockholm, Gabriella Baczynska in Warsaw, Yoko Nishikawa in Beijing and Reuters bureaux