Upon winning Nobel, Obama stresses need for Mideast peace

US President Barack Obam

WASHINGTON - In US President Barack Obama's speech upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, he singled out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an international problem in urgent need of resolution. "We must all do our part to resolve those conflicts that have caused so much pain and hardship over so many years, and that effort must include an unwavering commitment that finally realizes the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in nations of their own," Obama said, the only reference he made to a specific country or people in his Rose Garden remarks. In making Obama the third sitting US president to win the prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee praised the president's cooperative approach to global issues, a clear rebuke of the Bush administration's aversion to international organizations and treaties. The prize comes after Obama has been in office less than nine months, and as he decides whether to send additional combat troops to Afghanistan for a war effort that will now be measured against the principles of the peace prize. Speaking in the White House Rose Garden a few hours after being awakened with the news at 6 a.m., Obama said he did not view the prize as an affirmation of his accomplishments. "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 have inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace," he said. Yet, he said: "I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement. It's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes." Obama did highlight other pressing issues, including preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, though he didn't name Iran or North Korea in his comments. "We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons spread to more nations and in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust endangers more people," he declared. "That's why we've begun to take concrete steps to pursue a world without nuclear weapons, because all nations have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear power, but all nations have the responsibility to demonstrate their peaceful intentions." But Obama, who described himself as "surprised and deeply humbled," said he saw the award as a "call to action" for the countries of the world to confront the many challenges that face it. "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations," he said, questioning whether he deserved to be among the "transformative figures" who have previously received the award. "This prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build," he said, calling the award "a means to give momentum to a set of causes." The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Obama for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples" in announcing its decision, adding that the committee "attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." The citation continued to explain 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. 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." The Pew Research Center assessed that the committee's decision was a strong sign of Obama's international appeal. "Across much of the globe, publics give Obama positive ratings, and his election effectively turned around America's negative image in many countries," the center wrote, citing trends in its recent international polls. Republicans, meanwhile, used the award to criticize Obama as style over substance and argued that while he is liked by many overseas he has been unable to deliver results. Several Jewish organizations released statements congratulating the president on becoming a Nobel laureate, and some progressive Jewish groups seized on the prize and the president's comments to intensify their push for action on the peace process. "After President Obama's campaign advocating hope, change and diplomacy, his election restored America's image in the world, setting the stage for a negotiated two-state peace in the Middle East," Brit Tzedek V'Shalom said in a statement welcoming the news. "Only through President Obama's continued leadership and action will Middle East peace become a reality. We look forward to when this prize is shared with Israeli and Palestinian leadership against the backdrop of two states living side-by-side in peace and security." Not everyone in the Jewish community was pleased by the pick, however. In an e-mail offering perspective on the week's Middle East news, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs mocked the choice. "The Nobel Committee gave the Peace Prize to President Obama because he can visualize a world without nuclear weapons - or because he isn't President Bush. Big deal," the e-mail read. "Since they gave it to Yasser Arafat, it hasn't been worth 'a bucket of warm spit,' to paraphrase John Nance Garner." Garner was vice president of the US between 1933 and 1941 and he called the vice presidency "not worth a bucket of warm piss". AP contributed to this report.•