US President Barack Obama basked in new-found glory Saturday, vowing to consider his surprise Nobel Peace Prize as "a call for action" to address the challenges of the new century.
But critics argued the award may have been premature.
A visibly surprised Obama, 48, said Friday he did not feel fit to join the honor roll of revered Nobel peace laureates, but vowed to use the prize as a "call to action" to lead the world in confronting its deepest challenges.
As shockwaves from the Nobel committee in Oslo raced around the world, many saw the award as a final swipe at ex-president George W. Bush. Critics complained Obama had few big achievements to justify such an illustrious prize.
Gasps greeted the announcement at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, where the jury hailed Obama's "extraordinary" efforts in international diplomacy and hastening nuclear disarmament.
"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 Nobel jury said.Related article: Statement from jury
As criticism of the jury's unanimous decision swelled, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Thorbjoern Jagland denied the award was premature and said it recognized great deeds to come, as well as Obama's record so far.
"We want to emphasise that he has already brought significant changes," Geir Lundestad, the secretary of the Nobel Committee, told AFP.
"We do of course hope that there will be many concrete changes over the years but... we felt it was right to strengthen him as much as we can in his further struggle for his ideals."
Obama, the first black American elected president, said he was "surprised" and "humbled" by the honor, which may increase already intense pressure for him to reap swift foreign policy victories.Related article: World reax
Viewing the prize not as a personal reward but an affirmation of American "leadership," Obama said he would use the prize as a catalyst for action on issues like climate change, nuclear proliferation and global conflicts.
"I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement -- it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes."
"And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action -- a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century," Obama said.
Since taking office in January, Obama has initiated an engagement strategy with US nuclear foes like Iran and North Korea, thrown himself into the Middle East peace process and vowed to join the global fight against global warming.
Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs woke the president at the White House at 6:00 am with the news from Oslo. Gibbs said that Obama would accept the prize in person at a December 10 award ceremony.Profile: Barack Obama
Obama will donate the 1.4 million dollar award check to charity, the White House said.
Though a great honor, the Nobel prize may provide a political headache for Obama, further raising tough-to-meet expectations for his presidency abroad, and fueling claims by domestic critics that he suffers from dangerous hubris.
"The real question Americans are asking is, 'What has President Obama actually accomplished?'" said Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Republican lawmaker Gresham Barrett was also critical.
"I'm not sure what the international community loved best: his waffling on Afghanistan, pulling defense missiles out of Eastern Europe, turning his back on freedom fighters in Honduras, coddling Castro, siding with Palestinians against Israel, or almost getting tough on Iran," he said.
The Wall Street Journal, a conservative newspaper, said in an editorial that its reaction to the awarding of the prize was "bemusement" at the Nobel Committee, which tha paper said was "anticipating the heroic concessions that it believes Mr. Obama will make to secure treaties that will produce a new era of global serenity."
"We all have at least three more years to learn if Mr. Obama will fulfill the audacity of hope that the Nobel Committee has put on him to bow to the values of the world's "majority,'" the paper opined.
Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the prize reflects just how strongly many Europeans felt that "a conflictive rift" opened up between the United States and the rest of the world during the Bush years.
"In their view, Mr. Obama?s election and his determination to reengage globally already have done much to heal this rift and thus merit reward," Carothers noted in The New York Times.
Leaders of US allies were quick to laud the young US president, though praise was not universal.
Poland's anti-communist leader Lech Walesa, who won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize, said Obama's elevation came too early.
"Who, Obama? So fast? Too fast -- he hasn't had the time to do anything yet," Walesa told reporters in Warsaw.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the Nobel Prize Committee's decision was "evidence of a realistic vision of the dynamics of world development."
Obama is the third sitting US president to win the award, after Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919.