Obama basks in new glory after Nobel Peace Prize win

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.

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.

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.

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.

Obama is the third sitting US president to win the award, after Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919.