Obama on Nobel Prize Win: 'This Is Not How I Expected to Wake up This Morning'

Obama becomes the third sitting U.S. president to win the prestigious award.

ByABC News
October 9, 2009, 7:20 AM

Oct. 9, 2009— -- Acknowledging that he was "surprised and deeply humbled" by the news that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama today urged the international community to work together on addressing the challenges of the 21st century.

"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," Obama said in brief remarks at the White House. "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."

The president said the prize has been used as a means to provide momentum, but that no one person or one administration alone can solve all the problems.

"All nations must take responsibility for the world we seek," the president said. "We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons spread to more nations. ... We cannot accept the growing threat posed by climate change, which could forever danger the world we pass on to our children. ... We cannot allow the differences between people to allow the way we see one another."

Emphasizing the work he has done as commander in chief in pulling back forces from Iraq, Obama said that "some of the work confronting us will not be completed during our presidency" and that some work "may not be completed during my lifetime." But he added that he was hopeful the challenges will be met.

"This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration, it's about the courageous efforts of people around the world," he said.

Obama, only the third sitting U.S. president to win the prestigious award, will travel to Oslo in December to accept the prize in person. The White House says Obama will donate the full balance of the prize -- $1.4 million -- to charity but they did not say which charity, or charities, he has chosen.

The news that Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize came as a surprise even to the White House. Press aides said they had heard from news reports weeks ago that the president had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, but they do not believe Obama himself knew of his nomination.

The deadline for nominations is Feb. 1, meaning the president was nominated after being in office for just 11 days.

The award is "extraordinarily unprecedented," Michael Worek, author of "Nobel: A Century of Prize Winners," told ABC News.

"It would be like awarding the Oscar halfway through the movie. You're not saying it's a bad movie, you aren't knocking it. But we just don't know how it ends," Worek said.

Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, told "Good Morning America" the decision to pick Obama was unanimous.

"President Obama has changed very dramatically international politics," Lundestad told "GMA's" Diane Sawyer today. "We feel he has emphasized multilateral diplomacy, he has addressed international institutions, dialogue negotiations. He has inspired the world with his vision of a world without nuclear arms. He has changed the U.S. policy dramatically. There's a whole list."

Two key White House aides were both convinced they were being punked when they heard the news, reported ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

"It's not April 1, is it?" one said.

Upon being called by ABC News at 5:45 this morning, a White House aide said, "This better be good."

When told by ABC News that the president had won the Nobel Peace Prize, the aide replied: "Oh, that is good."

The award comes as the president deals with a vast array of international challenges, from deciding whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, to how to deal with nuclear-ambitious Iran and North Korea.

Critics are sure to argue that Obama's accomplishments have yet to rival those of previous winners.

Lundestad admitted that the committee knew the world would be surprised by the decision and was aware that the president faces many major decisions ahead in Afghanistan, but added that the committee has made its choice and Obama has "nothing to fear."

"We knew the world would be positive, surprised and some would be stunned," Lundestad said. "We have discussed the situation in Afghanistan. We understand the foreign policy of the United States has to be a very complex one with many different considerations. But we point particularly to the overall approach."

The five-member Nobel Peace Prize committee, in announcing its decision, lauded the president for his work on climate change and international diplomacy.

"Only very rarely has a person, to the same extent as Obama, captured the world's attention and given his people hope for a better future," the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, said in a statement.

"His diplomacy is founded in the concept of those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitude that are shared by the majority of the world's population. For 108 years the Nobel Committee has sought precisely the international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The committee endorses Obama's appeal that now is the time for all of us to take a share of responsibility for a global response for global challenges," the statement said.