Nobel Reaction: Could Obama One Day Lead the U.N.?

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
At the U.N., several diplomats standing around the corridors noted that President Obama could be the first U.S. President to someday become the U.N. Secretary General. Why? Because of such overwhelming international praise for the president's award of the Nobel Peace Prize.

But back home, reactions are mixed. To be sure, the prize is a great achievement; but Mr. Obama's Nobel Prize does not come as a full laurel wreath.

The problem, apparently for both supporters and critics in the U.S., is that the award appears to be more of an award for Mr. Obama's successful rebuke of the Bush Administration doctrine, not for his accomplishments. In other words, not that his ideas are not prize worthy, but that the ideas are not yet implemented.

The Nobel Prize award to Mr. Obama is seen by the international community as a great shift, in effect, a change in tone to one of engagement by the White House: "From shaking fists to shaking hands," a diplomat said.

Time will tell if Mr. Obama's initiatives bear fruit. The U.N. Secretary General and the Libyan President of the General Assembly heaped praise. Yet, the initiatives cited by the Nobel Prize committee are all in their earliest of stages.

On disarmament, Mr. Obama garnered the passage of a U.N. Security Council Resolution designed to encourage countries to rid the world of nuclear weapons, but the president has a long way to go to get the U.S. Congress to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; on climate change, the president committed the U.S. to support new measures, but no administration yet has signed onto target limits for greenhouse gases and Mr. Obama has not yet found a plan forward for the Copenhagen climate summit; and on the Middle East, at the U.N. meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, he got a handshake instead of commitments.

From the Middle East, the president heard praise from the Palestinian Authority and from Israeli President Shimon Peres, himself a winner of the shared prize in 1994, but back home, longer memories prevailed, and commentators reminded Americans that Yasser Arafat (with whom he shared the prize) helped torpedo the Middle East peace process.

On the domestic front, many cities, New York included, are more cautious in their awarding of prizes; New York for example has an unwritten rule to wait until a leader or sports figure dies before naming a New York City street after him or her. The belief heard among supporters is not that Mr. Obama may not prove worthy. The idea is just that you finish your four years of college before receiving your diploma. As the day progressed, many Americans felt the award may be seen an undue burden on the young, untested president.

On the international front, praise flowed. An underling of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Islamic Republic was not upset and added his agenda – that Mr. Obama use the opportunity to rid the U.N. of the world powers' veto. Outgoing International Atomic Energy chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, who is on that slippery slope of negotiating with the Islamic Republic about their heretofore secret nuclear facility, said the president provided leadership in disarmament.

International praise was not uniform. Lech Walesa, the former Polish President who won the prize in 1983, said it is "too early," and the British press ranged from characterizations from "absurd" to general wonderment.

Mr. Obama was quick to put a lid on gloating after the initial glee expressed from his staff ranging from "wow" to "Oslo beats Copenhagen" (a reference to the Olympic defeat by Chicago) by saying that he considers the prize a "call to action."

Time will tell. For now, Mr. Obama ends the day with a newfound prize but, paraphrasing Robert Frost, has his hands full of promises to keep, and miles to go before he sleeps.

This story was filed by CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk from the United Nations.

More Coverage on Obama Winning the Nobel Peace Prize:

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What's Your Opinion?

  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.