London/Washington, Oct 9: Barack Obama today won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize just nine months into his Presidency for his "extraordinary efforts" to strengthen international diplomacy in a stunning choice that left the world divided whether the honour came too early.
Hours after the Norwegian Nobel Committee made the sensational announcement, a beaming Obama(48)accepted the honour but acknowledged he was "both surprised and deeply humbled" to bag the award.
Appearing in the White House Rose Garden, Obama said he does not "view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments" but rather as a recognition of goals he has set for the United States and the world.
"I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize," he said, adding the honour is a "call to action."
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said "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 Stockholm-based Committee said it attached special importance to Obama's vision of, and work for, a world without nuclear weapons. The first Afro-American President of the US is the third incumbent after Theodore Rossevelt and Woodrow Wilson to win the peace prize. Former President Jimmy Carter won the prize after his term in the White House.
Former Polish President Lech Waleza and a Nobel peace prize winner was among the major leaders who said the "honour has come too fast".
Walesa, who won the award in 1983, said Obama "hasn't had the time to do anything" yet. "Sometimes the Nobel committee awards the prize to encourage responsible action."
Two militant outfits — Taliban in Afghanistan and the Hamas in Middle East — slammed the decision.
Several world leaders hailed Obama for bagging the prestigious international honour. They included French President Nikolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
With Obama's nomination attracting criticism in some quarters for being premature, the Committee rejected this assessment citing progress in multilateralism, disarmament and the fight against climate change as examples of his achievements.
"We want to emphasise that he has already brought significant changes," Geir Lundestad, the secretary of the Nobel Committee was quoted as saying.
Nobel Committee head Thorbjoern Jagland also fended off the criticism at a press conference following the announcement.
"If you look at the history of the Peace Prize, we have on many occasions given it to try to enhance what many personalities were trying to do," he said
The Committee earlier said, "Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play."
Obama assumed Presidency just two weeks before the close of February 1 nomination deadline and was mentioned feebly in speculation while the names of Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and an African woman's rights activist were doing the rounds.
The US media variedly described the announcement as surprising, bold and even bizarre.