LONDON — The choice of President Barack Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize was cheered Friday by a global chorus from European leaders to minibus passengers in Kenya – but it also elicited criticism over the decision to break with tradition and recognize hopeful promise over concrete achievement.
Obama is seen as having changed the direction of U.S. foreign policy, reversing many of his predecessor's unilateral policies and emphasizing the need for diplomacy, cooperation and mutual respect.
Last year's prize winner, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, said the Nobel committee wants to encourage Obama to push harder for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Of course, this puts pressure on Obama," he said. "The world expects that he will also achieve something."
Many admirers lauded the new president for his willingness to reach out to the Islamic world, his commitment to curtailing the spread of nuclear weapons and his goal of bringing the Israelis and Palestinians into serious, fruitful negotiations.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who won the prize in 1984, said Obama's award shows great things are expected from him in the coming years.
"In a way, it's an award coming near the beginning of the first term of office of a relatively young president that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all," he said. "It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope."
He described the prize as a "wonderful recognition" of Obama's effort to reach out to the Arab world after years of hostility.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Nobel committee's decision to reward Obama's multilateral approach to the world was "great news."
"President Obama embodies the new spirit of dialogue and engagement on the world's biggest problems: climate change, nuclear disarmament and a wide range of peace and security challenges," Ban said.
In the Kenyan city of Kisumu, the home province of Obama's father, radio shows interrupted broadcasting to have live phone-ins so callers could congratulate Obama on his win. Traders in the market huddled around hand-held radios and touts shouted the news from the windows of local minibuses.
"When I heard it on the radio I said Hallelujah!" said 65-year-old James Andaro. "It's God's blessing. This win is for Africa."
But there was far less enthusiasm in areas where America's foreign policy is resented.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called the awarding of the prize "hasty and too early."
"We have no objection if this prize is an incentive to reverse the warmongering and unilateral policies of the previous U.S. administration and if this encourages a policy based on just peace," the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Mottaki as saying in an exclusive interview.
"The appropriate time for awarding such a prize is when foreign military forces leave Iraq and Afghanistan and when one stands by the rights of the oppressed Palestinian people," he was quoted as saying.
In the Gaza Strip, leaders of the radical Hamas movement said they had heard Obama's speeches seeking better relations with the Islamic world but had not been moved.
"We are in need of actions, not sayings," Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said. "If there is no fundamental and true change in American policies toward the acknowledgment of the rights of the Palestinian people, I think this prize won't move us forward or backward."
In Afghanistan, where U.S. forces are engaged in a war against Taliban insurgents, President Hamid Karzai praised the Nobel decision, but others seemed unimpressed.
A spokesman for Karzai said he hopes the peace prize "will ultimately lead to peace and stability in Afghanistan and our region."
Kabul resident Abdul Rasoul disagreed.
"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," he said.
Other Afghans complained there has been no change in U.S. policy since Obama took over.
In Vienna, former Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Obama has already provided outstanding leadership in efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation.
"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," ElBaradei said. "He has shown an unshakable commitment to diplomacy, mutual respect and dialogue as the best means of resolving conflicts. He has reached out across divides and made clear that he sees the world as one human family, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity."
Still, some said the award came too soon, in light of the lack of tangible progress toward the vital goals of bringing peace to the Middle East, persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions and improving relations with North Korea.
"The award is premature," said Eugene Rogan, director of the Middle East Center at Oxford University in England. "He hasn't done anything yet. But he's made clear from the start of his presidency his commitment to promote peace. No doubt the Nobel committee hopes the award will enhance his moral authority to advance the cause of peace while he's still president."
Massimo Teodori, one of Italy's leading experts of U.S. history, said the Nobel decision is a clear rejection of the "unilateral, antagonistic politics" of Obama's predecessor, George Bush.
"The prize is well deserved after the Bush years, which had antagonized the rest of the world," Teodori said. "President Obama's policy of extending his hand has reconciled the United States with the international community."
Reaction was far more muted in Pakistan, where many have criticized U.S. policies.
In Pakistan's central city of Multan, radical Islamic leader Hanif Jalandhri said he was neither happy nor surprised by Obama's award.
"But I do hope that Obama will make efforts to work for peace, and he will try to scrap the policies of Bush who put the world peace in danger," said Jalandhri, secretary general of a group that oversees 12,500 seminaries. "This prize has tripled Obama's responsibilities, and we can hope that he will try to prove through his actions that he deserved this honor."
Associated Press Writers Abisalom Omolo in Kogelo, Kenya, Celean Jacobson in Johannesburg, Alessandra Rizzo in Rome, Matti Friedman in Jerusalem, Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Khalid Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan contributed to this story.