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Afghans 'confused' by Obama's win

NBC News correspondents and producers around the world share some of the local reactions they heard to news that President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

By Adrienne Mong, NBC News Producer

KABUL, Afghanistan – News that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize came as a surprise to people we spoke to in Kabul. 

At the Kabul Fried Chicken restaurant in the Shar-e Naw neighborhood, Obaid Alam congratulated us at first. "You are from America, yes?  I should congratulate you," he smiled at first. 

But when we asked whether he thought the U.S. president deserved the prize, he replied, "He just became the president. Things are just the same as the way they were by the administration of Mr. [George W.] Bush. Things are not better, things are worse and worse."

In fact, Alam said, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, "The number of U.S. Army [troops] has increased here. The number of terrorist attacks increased here. I'm kind of confused whether that Nobel Award [is] for all those things."

Similarly, another customer at the restaurant, who did not offer his name, said no one had seen any results yet from Obama's efforts to bring peace to the world. "Since he is the president just for the last eight months, I think that's too early."

These sentiments were echoed everywhere in local Afghan media, although there were extreme versions as well. On the one hand, President Hamid Karzai offered his congratulations. On the other, a Taliban spokesman condemned the award, saying Obama's strategy has been to increase the number of U.S. troops on Afghan soil, which has increased violence and lead to the deaths of more civilians. 


VIDEO: Nobel Prize surprise

Palestinians and Israelis: Prize 'for what?'

By Lawahez Jabari, NBC News Producer

JERUSALEM – The news that President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize was announced while his Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, was in the midst of meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Despite the high level meetings on Mitchell's agenda, both the Palestinians and Israelis have low expectations for any breakthroughs to come from this round of talks. Israel has refused to freeze the construction of settlements – and Palestinian leaders won't meet with the Israelis until there is a freeze. So the peace process remains at an impasse.

Even Israel's powerful Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared Thursday that there is no chance of reaching a final accord with the Palestinians anytime in the near future. 

So, in spite of the fact that Obama made the Middle East conflict a top priority upon entering the White House, there are no accomplishments that he can point to as signs of progress in the peace process. It is a goal that remains remote.

Still, both Israeli and Palestinian officials welcomed the news and offered congratulations.

But, in the street, the reaction was much different. The news that Obama won the peace prize was met with surprise. It was a shock for both sides and the major question is: "For what?"

Shlomit Tamir, a young mother from Tel Aviv who works in TV production, was shocked. "Peace prize? Obama? He didn't do anything yet. He has a nice wife, makes nice speeches and everything is very nice, but he didn't do anything yet. He just talks all the time. Am I right?"

In Ramallah people felt the choice of Obama did not represent any achievement. One woman said he was rewarded only because he was a symbol and not for accomplishing anything, because he's done nothing so far.

"He's the president and just a president," said Kuds, a student from Ramallah, who only gave his first name. "Yes he's a black president, which is great, but you don't accomplish something by the color of your skin. So no, he didn't deserve it."

Even Obama acknowledged in his statement today that he didn't feel he deserved the prize. So people here are now asking: "Why didn't he refuse it?"

Chinese netizens ask: 'Is today April Fool's Day?'

By Bo Gu, NBC News Producer

BEIJING – A few hours after the news came out that American President Barack Obama won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, the online forum of China's biggest Internet portal, SINA.com had over 10,000 comments on the subject, mostly sarcastic and suspicious, some even furious.

"Since when has Sweden learned to kiss America's a$$?" one angry comment said. It was followed by another one, "Isn't it ironic that the leader of a hegemony country wins Nobel Peace Prize?"

Very few people applauded the president's honor on the comment thread. After any comments that say something like, "I think Obama deserves the prize," the comment was immediately followed by angry replies. Comments like, "Yeah the whole country and Iraq and Afghanistan are laughing at you!" Or "Why don't they just give it to Adolf Hitler?" Quite a few Chinese netizens raised the same question: "Is today April Fool's Day?"

Before the announcement some Chinese were expecting that Hu Jia, an AIDS and human rights activist, who was put in jail under the charge of "subversion of state power and the socialist system" would win the prize. But just as last year, they are disappointed again.

The page on Chinese citizens winning the Nobel Peace Prize still remains blank, ironically, with the notable exception of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, who won the Peace Prize exactly 20 years ago.

Cuban professor: 'What peace does this award represent?'

By Mary Murray, NBC News Producer

HAVANA, Cuba – I'm sure this comes as no surprise to Cuba watchers: its noon and still the island's official media has yet to report the news that President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

When it does, chances are it will be cloaked in a challenge to the American president to live up to the award and apply his "new international climate" to Washington's half century old Cold War with Cuba.

U.S.-Cuba  politics aside, Esteban Morales, U.S. Studies professor at Havana University, thinks the Nobel committee's choice was "inappropriate."

"I find it paradoxical that he won this prize when the U.S. is currently embroiled in two wars and has practically declared its intention to attack Iran," said Morales. "While I give him the benefit of the doubt with his talk about tolerance and unity, in real life he's done nothing to solve the problems at hand. Maybe he would deserve this down the road, but I have to ask today: What peace does this award represent?" 

But former political prisoner Oscar Espinoza Chepe argues that the Nobel Peace Prize is "well deserved." He congratulated Obama for initiating bilateral talks with the Cuban government and for allowing Cuban Americans to freely visit family back on the island.

"This prize shows the changes that are happening internationally and Obama as a symbol of this moment. It bolsters his strength and legitimacy," said Chepe. "And is good news for the many Cubans who identify with him and hope that he will normalize relations between our two countries and help our lives here."

Miriam Leyva, Chepe's wife and a figure in Cuba's political opposition, sees Obama's youth and message of global good will as the basis for the award. "Obama does not just represent the present. He gives us the optimism of a stronger future. Between his younger views and good intentions, we can expect much, much, more from Obama."  

Kenyans ask 'why?'

By Paul Goldman, NBC News Producer

LOKICHOGGIO, Turkana District, Kenya – In this village in northern Kenya aid workers were shocked when they heard the news that "native son" President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

"Why?" asked a logistics officer of the World Food Program. "What has he done to deserve it?"

We were on an assignment unrelated to the announcement, traveling from a refugee camp to a local airport, and were the first to deliver the news. Although from the same tribe as Obama's family, the Luo, the aid worker said that he feared that "this will devalue the Nobel Peace Prize."

But his friend separately asked, "Does he deserve it?"

"What do you think?" I asked.

"No!"  he replied instantly.

However, other Kenyans contacted by phone were happier, some seeing it as a second prize for Kenya. Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace." 


Egyptians: 'A bit soon' but still deserved

By Charlene Gubash, NBC News Producer

Egyptians in general have a had a warm spot in their hearts for President Barak Obama ever since his election.Their affection flourished when he chose to address the Muslim world from Cairo. So although some here felt that the president had not yet done enough to merit a Nobel Peace Prize, the award did not dim their enthusiasm for the man.

"I didn't expect it at all," said school teacher Sara Osman. "He's a very diplomatic president. He knows how to keep the peace, the global peace around the world. ... I can say that I was surprised and I think it's a bit soon."

Adam Kamis who works in the oil sector agreed. "I am really happy, and he deserves everything good. The only thing is I think it is a little early."

Others cited his outreach to Islam as reason enough to earn the award. "I was very happy because his approach with Arab and Muslim countries is quite different," said Manal Attiya, an oil company employee. "America is always considered the leader all over the world, and I think he will encourage and push others to get the same way, and this is the correct way and the only way to have peace all over the world."

"He deserved it very much," said an Egyptian-American attorney in a Cairo café. "He has the guts to approach the Muslim world (when) 9/11 sits in every American mind."

Mervat Mohsen, head of news at Nile TV, credited Obama with improving relations between the U.S. and Muslims, but faulted his performance in regards to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the U.S. economy. "We have to bear in mind the kind of cordial welcome that he received by Egyptians when he was here. He did make a severe change in how Americans perceive Arabs and Muslims … but nevertheless we may be a little bit reserved with our viewers in giving him too much too soon."

Al Jazeera coverage was somewhat less magnanimous. While most Arab stations covered the item as straight news, Al Jazeera dedicated some of its broadcast to sharply critical discussions of the decision. In one program, "Behind the Events," guests from Beirut and Egypt echoed a common theme when they insisted Obama did not deserve to win the Peace Prize while acting as commander in chief of a country at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

British press critical
By Tom Aspell, NBC News Correspondent

LONDON – British official reaction has lauded Obama's Nobel Peace Prize win. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent private congratulations to the White House. And opposition politician Mark Durkan hailed the award.

"Since his election President Obama has touched and inspired people all around the world. He has been a sign of positive progress, not just in the United States but in terms of international leadership," Durkan said.

But overall reaction in Britain has been muted and in some cases critical.

Northern Ireland-born laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire slammed the award as "very sad." Maguire won the prize in 1976 with fellow Belfast peace campaigner Betty Williams after they mobilized tens of thousands of people on "Peace People" marches demanding an end to violence in Northern Ireland. 

On British Web sites the sentiment was overwhelmingly against the Nobel committee's decision to award its peace prize to a U.S. president in office for less than two weeks when nominations closed February 1 of this year.

Michael Binyon, writing for the Times of London, was blunt in his reaction: "The prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronizing in its intentions and demeaning in its attempt to build up a man who has barely begun his period in office, let alone achieved any tangible outcome for peace."

We'll have to wait and see how many other Britons agree.

Japanese laud nuclear disarmament

By Arata Yamamoto, NBC News Producer

TOKYO – As the news of President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize accolade came late in the day in Japan, the public reaction is a bit tough to gauge. But the news had a particularly strong resonance with the Japanese government because of Obama's repeated calls for nuclear disarmament.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama upon hearing the news in Beijing, China offered his congratulations. "I thought particularly his speech on building a world without nuclear weapons in Prague was wonderful. To have the President of the United States, the world's largest possessor of nuclear weapons call for a nuclear free world, this was no simple feat. And I think our enthusiasm in supporting President Obama was reflected in today's Nobel Peace Prize."

The mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba echoed: "I completely approve of this decision."

In Tokyo, the chief cabinet secretary told reporters that the prime minister hopes that Obama would someday be able to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki – hinting at Japan's wish for such a visit when he travels to Tokyo next month.

What do you think? Vote: Is Obama a deserving winner?