The US President, Barack Obama, has won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. Campaigners welcomed the news but urged him to live up to it.
In a statement, the Nobel Committee declared that “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future”.
The news comes as a surprise to many. The two favourites to win this year’s Prize were Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Chinese activist Hu Jia.
The Committee specifically mentioned Obama’s work on nuclear weapons reduction and his attempts to strengthen international institutions.
"His diplomacy is founded in the concept that 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” they added.
The Prize is likely to be seen as symbolic of a change in the world’s attitude towards the United States since Obama replaced George Bush as President. During Bush's term of office, the country’s international standing was considerably weakened.
In Britain, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) welcomed the news, but cautioned that Obama must now live up to the ideals enshrined in the prize, both on nuclear issues and conventional wars.
“As we approach the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May, it is vital that all nuclear-armed states are brought into the process and that a timetable for abolition is agreed” said CND’s chair Kate Hudson
She added that "Obama needs to decide whether he really will be a peacemaker when it comes to Afghanistan and Iran”. She called for an end to US and UK involvement in Afghanistan and said that on Iran, Obama should make clear “that any solution will be diplomatic and not military."
The BBC’s Paul Reynolds said that the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama “might be regarded as more of an encouragement for intentions than a reward for achievements”.
This view seemed to be confirmed by Thorbjoern Jagland, chair of the Nobel Committee, who said Obama had won the Prize “because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve".
Barack Obama, who was woken up to be told the news, said that he was “humbled” by the decision.