Nobel Committee Cites Obama's Disarmament Efforts

President Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace prize for international diplomacy efforts. The Nobel committee attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Nobody has ever accused President Barack Obama of being a late bloomer.

MONTAGNE: He ran for president after less than one full term in the Senate.

INSKEEP: He became one of the youngest men ever to win the White House.

MONTAGNE: Now, he has won the Nobel Prize for Peace during his first year in office.

INSKEEP: In fact, the deadline for nominations came early this year, less than two weeks after Mr. Obama took office.

MONTAGNE: NPR's White House correspondent, Scott Horsley, joins us now to talk about all of this. Good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And it seems the White House was just as surprised by this announcement as everyone else.

HORSLEY: I think that's right. The president, himself, got the news in a wakeup call this morning, from the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, just before 6:00 AM. He was said to be humbled by the recognition. And, you know, this prize comes, not only early in the morning, east coast time, but very early in the president's administration - just eight-and-a-half months in. That's, perhaps, the biggest surprise. Most handicappers thought it was just way too soon for this sort of recognition. I remember when the president gave a graduation speech at Arizona State University, this summer, the school declined an honorary degree - saying much of his work is still ahead of him. Obviously, the Nobel Committee took a different approach.

MONTAGNE: And the Committee sighted President Obama for what it called his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy.

And we have a little clip of what the Nobel Committee said this morning.

(Soundbite of audio clip)

Unidentified Man: Obama has, as president, created a new international climate. Multilateral diplomacy has regained central position with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.

MONATAGNE: And so, you're hearing the Committee speak of President Obama creating a new political climate and reversing what it - what do you call - unilateralism, I guess you would say; giving people hope is something it also said. Though, what specifically, would he have done to impress the Prize Committee?

HORSLEY: Yeah, this is really about the president's aspirations and his attitude, rather than any sort of concrete achievements. The Committee said Mr. Obama is now the world's leading spokesman, now, for the kind of international diplomacy that the Nobel Prize is designed to foster; a world in which dialogue and negotiation is the preferred instrument for resolving conflicts. In particular, the Committee cited Mr. Obama's vision of a world free of nuclear arms.

Now, of course, at this point, that's only a vision. Mr. Obama has tried to restart negotiations and relations with Russia, the other big nuclear nation in the world. But we haven't yet seen an arms control agreement there. He's pursued a very multilateral approach to deal with the nuclear threat in Iran. But we're still waiting to see how that plays out.

On his very first day in office, Mr. Obama got personally involved in the Mid-East peace process. No real fruit's been borne from that yet. And the Committee noted that the U.S. is now playing a more active role in global climate negotiations, although prospects for a solid deal in Copenhagen, later this year, are still very uncertain.

MONTAGNE: We're talking with NPR's Scott Horsley. Now, Mr. Obama's is the forth U.S. president to win the prize. There was Jimmy Carter, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt - puts him in pretty rarified company.

HORSLEY: Well, that's right. Of course, both Roosevelt and Wilson had been in office for some years when they were recognized. And former president Carter had been out of office for almost - for more than two decades before he won in 2002. We might mention, also, that former vice president, Al Gore, won in 2007 for his efforts on climate change.

MONTAGNE: Is there a practical effect that this might have for the president's initiatives, domestically?

HORSLEY: Well, you know, winning the Nobel Prize will not create any jobs here at home, and that's obviously a big weight on this administration. It probably won't win any Republican votes for health care. It does burnish Mr. Obama's international credentials a bit, if he needed that. And remember, he was passed over by the International Olympic Committee. Oslo gives back what Copenhagen took away. But, you know, his toughest critics here at home are not likely to be impressed by this. The folks who appreciate his multilateral international approach will feel vindicated; those who criticize it will feel like, well, this is exactly the wrong approach to be taking.

One observer said, you know, the U.S. is now back in the world's good graces, but now comes the hard part.

MONTAGNE: Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Scott Horsley speaking to us from Washington, D.C.

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