LONDON, Oct. 9, 2009— -- When the chairman of the Nobel Prize Committee announced this morning that President Obama had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize the news was received with a collective gasp from the room full of journalists.
Around the world the announcement was received with similar surprise and divided reactions. His allies applauded the choice, while his critics questioned his qualifications.
For many in the two countries that have most recently seen U.S. military intervention, Afghanistan and Iraq, an award for peace to a president still at war is anathema.
"The peace award which has been given to Barack Obama is not right because under Obama, a lot of civilians have died here in the bombing," Abdul Rasoul, a resident of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, said.
Afghans are questioning Obama's receipt of a medal that rewards efforts to broker peace when violence has increased there since he became president. This year has been the most violent year of the war for both civilians and troops.
The Taliban echoed this sentiment in a statement that condemned the award.
"He reinforces the war in Afghanistan, he sent more troops to Afghanistan and is considering sending yet more. He has shed Afghan blood and he continues to bleed Afghans and to boost the war here," the Taliban said.
There is, however, a widespread hope in Afghanistan that a president who has reached out to the Muslim world can figure out a way to tackle the growing insurgency there. Many Afghans ABC News spoke to today -- especially the better educated -- believe that even if Obama hasn't brought peace yet, he will.
Across the border in Pakistan, however, there is huge mistrust of the United States right now. Anti-Americanism is running rampant as coverage of the Kerry-Lugar bill to boost nonmilitary aid to Pakistan portrays the bill as an invasion of Pakistan's sovereignty.
Pakistanis are much more critical of Obama than Afghans, arguing that he has brought more violence to the country. As Muhammad Munir asked ABC News in Islamabad today: "There are killings all over the world, whether it's Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine or Kashmir. Who is doing the killing? They [Americans] are doing it. But he is getting peace prizes as well?"
The View From Baghdad
In the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, the news was met with similar disapproval by some.
"He doesn't deserve it. What has he done so far? He has done nothing for the world. The U.S. is still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan so far, he does nothing but make promises," Jenan Ali, a 39-year-old housewife in Baghdad complained.
Not everyone in Iraq, the country that arguably suffered the most from the previous administration's foreign policy, was against the decision.
"For the first time, we see a U.S. president taking a respectful approach towards Islam and Muslims. The approach is different from those who preceded him. He has a peaceful vision for the world," Sarmad Abbas, a 31-year-old Iraqi, said praising the president.
Across the globe in Seoul, South Korea, the opinions were also divided. "What did he do to win the Nobel Peace Prize?" asked 30-year-old engineer In-Yong Hwang. "The news was nonsense to me. I don't think he deserves it."
But Jae Woon Lim, a 31-year-old teacher, disagreed. "His foreign policy changed diplomatic relations to a mood of cooperation and reconciliation, very different from the Bush administration. In that sense, I think he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize."
In Kenya, the home of Obama's father, reactions to the news ranged from delight to skepticism. Nearly all Kenyans are proud of the man they call "the son of Kogelo" being elected president of the United States, but some felt that the president hasn't achieved enough to be awarded a Nobel Prize.
Samwell Kariuki, a businessman from Kitale, Kenya, said that he believes the tough stance Obama is taking on corruption in Kenya and Africa in general is fostering a different kind of peace. "He's putting pressure on Kenya," said Kariuki. "By not coming here, by telling the leaders they need to change, he is trying to make them work together so we will have peace in Kenya."
Obama is the second Nobel Peace Prize winner with Kenyan roots. Environmental and human rights activist Wangari Mathaai was the first African woman to win in 2004. Calling Obama's win "extraordinary," Maathai told CNN she believes his award is a great inspiration for the world.
In Praise of the President
Other former Nobel laureates were also quick to send the president praise.
"We trust that this award will strengthen his commitment, as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, to continue promoting peace and the eradication of poverty," said as statement from Nelson Mandela Foundation.
"In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself," said Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. "He has shown an unshakable commitment to diplomacy, mutual respect and dialogue as the best means of resolving conflicts."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent him a letter expressing his "very great joy" at the news saying the choice"recognizes your vision in favor of tolerance and dialogue between states, cultures and civilizations. It recognizes the return of America into the heart of the people of the world".
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent him a private message of congratulations.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Obama and cited his efforts to curtail the spread of nuclear power. "In a short amount of time, he has set a new tone for the rest of the world, bringing a willingness to negotiate and a readiness for dialogue, and we should all support him in his efforts towards a world free of nuclear weapons," Merkel said.
A principal reason cited by the Nobel Committee for giving Obama the award was his work on nuclear disarmament. The U.S. is working with Russia on a new version of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expires in December. So far, the two sides have agreed to reduce the number of nuclear warheads in their arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675, and talks will continue when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Moscow next week.
There was no reaction to news of Obama's prize from the highest echelons of Russia's government today. President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were on a trip to Molvoda but didn't mention it.
Former Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who won the Peace Prize in 1990, posted a warm letter to the U.S. president on his foundation's website, praising the Nobel Committee's decision that "significantly reinforces our family of Nobel laureates."
"Your efforts have helped to bring about a significant change in the international climate," Gorbachev writes. "I feel close affinity to your vision of the global world and of relations among nations. Implementing it will require strong will, statesmanship and mastery of communication."
Reaction on Moscow's streets was mixed. "I don't understand the reason for the choice," said Lyudmilla, a computer program. "He's a very good person, he's a very nice person, but the Peace Prize ? not quite."
"I think it's great," said a young man who works in the arts, though he acknowledged Obama has yet to actually accomplish something concrete. "Today he has not done anything. But in the future he will," he added.
As the committee's chairman, Thorbjoern Jagland, said this morning in defence of its choice, "You have to remember that the world has been in a pretty dangerous phase, and anybody who can contribute to getting the world out of this situation deserves a Nobel Peace Prize."
The Associated Press and the following ABC News reporters contributed to this story: Alex Marquardt in Moscow, Dana Hughes in Nairobi, Kenya; Joohee Cho in Seoul, South Korea; Nick Schifrin in Kabul, Afghanistan; Christel Kucharz in Passau, Germany; and Christophe Schpoliansky in Paris.