OSLO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for offering the world hope and striving for nuclear disarmament in a surprise award that drew both warm praise and sharp criticism.
The bestowal of one of the world's top accolades on a president less than nine months in office, who has yet to score a major foreign policy success, was greeted with gasps of astonishment from journalists at the announcement in Oslo.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Obama for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.
Critics -- some in parts of the Arab and Muslim world -- called the committee decision premature.
Obama's press secretary woke him with the news before dawn and the president felt "humbled" by the award, a senior administration official said.
When told in an email from Reuters that many people around the world were stunned by the announcement, Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, responded: "As are we."
The first African-American to hold his country's highest office, Obama, 48, has called for disarmament and worked to restart stalled Middle East peace moves since taking office in January.
"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 committee said in a citation.
Despite problems at home that include high unemployment, the U.S. president is still widely seen around the world as an inspirational figure.
Obama laid out his vision on eliminating nuclear arms in a speech in Prague in April. But he was not the first American president to set that goal, and acknowledged it might not be reached in his lifetime.
Obama was to make a statement in the White House Rose Garden at 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT). The president, struggling at home with high unemployment and resistance in Congress to his healthcare reform plans, is likely to go to Oslo to receive the prize, Axelrod told the MSNBC TV channel.
While the award won praise from such statesmen as Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev, both Nobel laureates, it was also attacked in some quarters as hasty and undeserved.
Afghanistan's Taliban mocked the award, saying Obama should get a Nobel prize for violence instead.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said it was absurd to give a peace award to a man who had sent 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to escalate a war.
"The Nobel prize for peace? Obama should have won the 'Nobel Prize for escalating violence and killing civilians'," he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. Continued...