Obama 'humbled' by Nobel Peace Prize but Iran is quick to take a bow

Citizens and world leaders urged Barack Obama to seize on his surprise Nobel Peace Prize win on Friday to forge peace in the globe's trouble spots and rid the world of nuclear weapons.

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PARIS // Citizens and world leaders urged Barack Obama to seize on his surprise Nobel Peace Prize win on Friday to forge peace in the globe's trouble spots and rid the world of nuclear weapons. From Tokyo to Cape Town, news that the 48-year-old US president had won the prestigious award just nine months into office was met by a mixture of shock and appeals for Mr Obama to solve a host of local and global issues.

The five-person Norwegian Nobel panel praised Mr Obama's "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples", in a win that astonished the laureate himself. A "surprised" and "deeply humbled" Mr Obama said he doubted he deserved the honour, but vowed to wield it as a "call to action" to lead a united world against its greatest challenges. Iranian media claimed that Mr Obama's initiative to hold unconditional dialogue with Tehran was the main reason he won the prize. "Iran's share in Obama receiving peace prize," said the front-page headline in the leading Iranian reformist daily newspaper, Etemad. "From the start, he [Obama] emphasised holding a direct, without any precondition - dialogue with Iran after 30 years. He won the award for proposing direct dialogue without any precondition."

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, hailed the prize as "America's return to the hearts of the world's peoples" after disenchantment with the previous presidency of George W Bush. London's Daily Telegraph said it was "one of the biggest shocks Nobel judges have ever sprung" and would also be seen as one of the most political, with nominations closing just 12 days after Mr Obama took office. France's Libération wrote that the prize was deserved "because he's Obama, with his life symbolically on three continents [and] because his success has become synonymous with dignity and hope." But, the editorial asked: "Could a Nobel Peace Prize laureate decide to attack Iran?" Egypt's Al-Dustur daily called the award "political hypocrisy". "What's he done to get this prize?" the paper asked, recalling that US troops remained in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East peace process was still deadlocked and Mr Obama "hasn't done anything to oblige Israel to get rid of its nuclear weapons". Iraqi papers were largely silent on the award, with only some published yesterday giving the news any attention. The Al-Akhbar daily in Lebanon said "the young president has only achieved one thing, making lots of promises - the Nobel committee is thus trying to tie him to his promises so that he keeps his word from the start of his mandate". The Saudi Arabian daily Al-Jazira said the award was premature, but "we will award him more than one prize if he fulfils his promise of a fair solution in the Middle East and of the founding of an independent Palestinian state".

The announcement was not universally lauded. "Who, Obama? So fast? Too fast - he hasn't had the time to do anything yet," was the incredulous response of Lech Walesa, Poland's historic trade union leader and the 1983 laureate. For others, Mr Obama's promotion to the rank of global peacemaker was an opportunity to give him some new assignments. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said Mr Obama's win was an "incentive" for all to do more for peace, adding that his goal of a nuclear-free world is one "we must all try to achieve in the coming years". The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, said he hoped it would be a "boost to our joint efforts in forming a new climate in international politics and promoting initiatives that are critically important for global security".

The 2008 laureate, Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, noted that as Middle East peace efforts remained stalled, "this time, it was very clear that they wanted to encourage Obama to move on these issues". * Agence France-Presse