Around The World, Obama's Nobel Win Surprises

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President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for giving the world "hope for a better future" and striving for nuclear disarmament. NPR's Rob Gifford tells Steve Inskeep that reaction to the win around the world is the same as in the U.S.: surprise.


Now, we're being told that President Obama is expected to make a statement himself, in a little more that two hours, responding to work that he's won the Nobel Peace Prize. As we wait for the president to speak about this, let's get some response from around the world. NPR's Rob Gifford has been monitoring that from London. Rob, Good morning.

ROB GIFFORD: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How surprised have people been?

GIFFORD: Well, I think very surprised. There's been the same reaction here, in Europe, as there was in the United States. In fact, there were audible gasps around the room when the chairman of the Nobel Committee in Oslo announced Barack Obama's name. Since then there have been all sorts of responses from world leader - some good, some bad. President Sarkozy, of France, has says it does justice to President Obama's vision of tolerance and dialogue between states. Interestingly, a spokesman for the Iranian president, President Ahmadinejad says we hope this gives him the incentive to walk in the path of bringing justice to world order. They didn't condemn it. It said we're not upset about this and we hope that by receiving this prize, he will start taking practical steps to remove injustice.

The Taliban, however, in Afghanistan, have opposed this. They've given a statement saying he has done nothing for peace in Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: Wide - wide range of reactions here, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev - former winners of the prize - are praising it. The Taliban - not so happy. Palestinians seem mixed on this. People in the Middle East, although the chief Palestinian peace negotiator says it could be a good omen.

Which raises a question, Rob Gifford, people are asking why did he win this? The chairman of the Nobel Committee is quoted, today, saying we hope this can contribute a little bit to enhance what he is trying to do. A reminder, I guess, that this prize is sometimes for past achievements and sometimes given with the intent to spur events.

GIFFORD: I think that's right. And of course, there is the concern, now, that this could be something of a poison chalice; that though you've given this -this has been given to him nine months into his first term. It's almost impossible to live up to that over the - over the next years to come in his first term, and if he gets a second term. And that certainly raises the bar for what has to do, some people are saying, here. But I think the crucial thing is that he's seen outside the United States as having completely changed the tone of America's engagement with the world. And it is, really, an implicit slap in the face to the Bush administration. It's no secret that Europeans and many people around the world found the Bush administration's - what was perceived to be their unilateral approach to the world, and sometimes seen to be their slightly bullying approach to the world, was not liked abroad. And so this award is really saying, I think, that President Obama and his engagement with the world; and his push for diplomacy and multilateralism is very much what the world outside America wants to see from America.

INSKEEP: Well, I wonder if this reflects beyond the Committee itself? Your sense of world opinion, or some broad measure of world opinion, that maybe we do scratch our heads a little bit and ask where's the peace treaty, where's the completed act? But people around the world are saying actually, no, just changing the tone is, in itself, a major accomplishment as we, the world, see it.

GIFFORD: That's right. I think people realize that America is still so important. And I think, when you're in the United States, you hear a lot about the anti-Americanism abroad, and of course there is plenty of that. But there is, also, a very strong sense of - many people who love America; people who think that America is a great country and really want to be engaged with America. And they see - and I think this award shows - that President Obama represents everything that outsiders, Europeans and others love about America at its best; engaging with the world, listening to people, wanting to work with people rather than being unilateral and throwing its weight around intenationally.

INSKEEP: Rob, thanks very much.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Gifford in London bringing us up to date on international reaction to news that President Barack Obama, in his first year of office, has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. And we'll bring you more as we learn it.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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