Surprised, Obama Joins Nobel Laureates

President Obama is spending his first weekend as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Word of the honor came early Friday morning, taking the White House by surprise as much as anyone.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Obama's spending his first weekend as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate barely 10 months into his presidency. Word of the honor came early yesterday and seemed to surprise the White House as much as anybody. The news has drawn praise, some sarcasm, and a lot of curiosity.

The president says he'll donate the $1.4 million in cash that come with the award to a still-unnamed charity. His aides say he will head to Oslo in December to attend the Nobel award ceremony. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: The president got the news in a wakeup call from his press secretary just before 6:00 a.m. Friday. And later in the morning in the Rose Garden with reporters, he recalled sharing the moment with his daughters.

President BARACK OBAMA: After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo's birthday. And then Sasha added: plus we have a three-day weekend coming up. So it's good to have kids to keep things in perspective.

GONYEA: Bo, of course, is the family dog. The president then got more serious.

Pres. OBAMA: To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize - men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

GONYEA: But in accepting the award, the president said he sees it as a call to action in the Middle East, on climate change, and the threat posed by nuclear proliferation. The Nobel news comes as the president consults with top military and civilian advisors about the war in Afghanistan. The commander of that mission, General Stanley McChrystal, wants 40,000 or more additional troops.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked on Friday about a day that included both the peace prize and a meeting that could mean more war.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): The discussion that will be had today is about a very dangerous region in the world. And there are steps that have to be taken to ensure that we are not attacked and that our allies are not attacked. Those are steps, again, the president mentioned quite clearly in his speech. Those are steps that he'll make not lightly as commander-in-chief.

GONYEA: As for reaction to the award…

Mr. MATTHEW CONTINETTI (The Weekly Standard): The prize is, to me, completely divorced from any real achievement.

GONYEA: That's Matthew Continetti of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard. Other Republicans ridiculed the Nobel committee, saying it swooned over the president. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Mr. Obama won because of, quote, "star power." Continetti asked the following…

Mr. CONTINETTI: Is the Nobel Peace Prize going to do anything to help him in his negotiations with the Iranians? I don't think so. Is it going to do anything to help him with the negotiations to disarm North Korea? I don't think so. Is it going to help him do anything to get the Copenhagen Treaty by December on global climate change? I don't think so.

GONYEA: Other analysts noted the award will hardly win the president any votes on top domestic issues, including health care, nor does it boost the economy or create jobs, a big concern for most Americans.

Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution said the formal awards ceremony in Oslo will offer the president a signal opportunity.

Mr. STEPHEN HESS (Brookings Institution): And is he going to use this wisely and use this in a concrete form? Is this going to be Harry Truman announcing the Marshall plan or whatever it might be? Or is it just a very brilliant speech, as he's capable of doing, about how he wants a nuclear-free world?

GONYEA: The Nobel committee indicated it was moved in part by the speeches Mr. Obama has made up to now. But this award is also a kind of message, a challenge to the president, to make decisions for peace as well as speeches.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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