U.S. President Barack Obama says he plans to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, saying the award is "a call for all nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century."
Mr. Obama said he was humbled by the award, and that he feels he doesn't deserve "to be in the company of so many transformative figures."
He indirectly acknowledged criticism that the prize wasn't given for any particular achievement but for providing "hope for a better future."
"I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments but as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of the aspirations held by people in all nations," Mr. Obama said during a press conference at the White House.
Awarding the world's most prestigious prize for peace to a president in office less than nine months came as a surprise.
But Mr. Obama has galvanized the world, proving himself wildly popular around the globe, especially in comparison to his predecessor George W. Bush.
Barack Obama, Nobel laureateThe Norwegian Nobel Committee awards the 2009 Peace Prize to the U.S. President
The award - which includes a cash prize of $1.4-million U.S. - was welcomed by some prominent peace groups.
"We trust that this award will strengthen his commitment, as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, to continue promoting peace and the eradication of poverty," the Mandela Foundation, named for the former South African president who spent decades in prison, said in a statement.
Some other previous peace prize winners were astonished.
The Polish dissident Lech Walesa, who led the decade-long Solidarity movement in the 1980s that eventually toppled Soviet rule and set in motion the whole series of Eastern European revolutions said Mr. Obama has yet to do anything.
"Who? What? So fast?" Mr. Walesa, who eventually become Poland's president, said when told the news.
"There's hasn't been any contribution to peace yet. He's proposing things, he's initiating things, but he is yet to deliver," Mr. Walesa said
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," Mr. Hatoyama told reporters on a visit to Beijing.
Ms. Merkel said Obama had shifted the tone towards 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.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it attached particular ``importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.''
At times, the citation seems to focus on Mr. Obama's global popularity - currently higher than his approval ratings at home - rather than any specific achievements.
"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention,'' the selection committee said, adding "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.''
Mr. Obama, among only a few U.S. politicians who opposed the 2003 war to topple Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq is currently in the middle of intense negotiations on recrafting a war strategy for Afghanistan.
Reuters reported that 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.
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.Report Typo/Error