U.S. President Barack Obama was "surprised and deeply humbled" when he found out that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday.

He told reporters at a news conference Friday that his young daughters bounced into his room early this morning to tell him the good news -- but in the same breath reminded him it was their dog's birthday and that they had a three-day weekend coming up.

"It's good to have kids around to keep things in perspective," he said.

Obama was given the prestigious recognition to encourage his goals of international diplomacy rather than unilateralism, reducing the nuclear threat and easing tensions with the Muslim world.

The move shocked pundits who noted that Obama was only in office for about two weeks before the Feb. 1 nomination deadline for the Peace Prize.

"This is as far as I know the first Nobel Peace Prize awarded on spec, basically awarded for promise rather than accomplishment," said American presidential historian Allen Lichtman in an interview with CTV's Canada AM.

"Awarded for changing the tone and direction of American diplomacy rather than a particular grand achievement," he said.

Obama said he felt he didn't deserve to be in the company of the people before him who have previously received the honour.

"I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have won this prize before me," he said. "The men and women who have inspired me and have encouraged the entire world with their pursuits for peace."

He said that he would however accept the prize as an affirmation of the aspirations that people have of American leadership.

"I will accept this award as a call for action," he said but noted that peace can not be accomplished by one nation alone. "(This is) a call for all nations to accept the challenges of the 21st century."

A new style of diplomacy

Norweigian Nobel Committee Chair Thorbjoern Jagland said Obama's ability to capture the public's attention and engage them in a new type of diplomacy makes him deserving of the honour.

He said Obama's calls and initiatives towards international peace and cooperation had shifted the global mood of politics.

"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," Jagland said.

"You have to remember that the world has been in a pretty dangerous phase," he continued. "And anybody who can contribute to getting the world out of this situation deserves a Nobel Peace Prize."

He said Obama had returned multilateral diplomacy and institutions like the UN to the forefront of the world stage. However, the Nobel committee also said that many of Obama's goals had yet to be realized including reducing the world stock of nuclear arms, strengthening the combat against climate change and easing American tensions with Muslim nations.

The U.S. administration was not informed of their decision before it was made public, said Jagland.

"Waking up a president in the middle of the night, this isn't really something you do," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Mixed reaction

Obama's election into presidency was seen as a positive turning point for the U.S. on both the international stage and on the domestic front.

In July, a 25-nation poll of 27,000 people found double-digit boosts to the number of people who viewed the U.S. favourably. That number was drastically lower under former president George W. Bush

Jagland said the decision to give Obama the prize was unanimous among the five-member committee panel.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his congratulations to Obama Friday morning.

"President Obama's efforts and vision to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people are applauded by all Canadians," he said in a prepared statement.

Obama's award shows great things are expected from him in coming years, said Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who won the prize in 1984.

"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," Tutu said. "It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope."

However, others suggested that awarding a new president with such an esteemed award was premature and unjustified.

After all, the U.S. still has troops in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan and Congress still has not passed a law reducing carbon emissions. There has also been little progress in Obama's efforts to reduce the global nuclear stockpile.

"So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act," said former Polish President Lech Walesa, a 1983 Nobel Peace laureate, upon hearing the news.

"This is probably an encouragement for him to act. Let's see if he perseveres. Let's give him time to act," Walesa said.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a former Peace Prize winner and director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, said Obama has already provided outstanding leadership in the effort to reduce the nuclear threat.

"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 unshakeable commitment to diplomacy, mutual respect and dialogue as the best means of resolving conflicts."

Lichtman said he was shocked by the announcement.

"My first reaction was clearly this is compensation for Chicago not getting the Olympics!" he joked.

Lichtman noted Obama's strides in his efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons with a recent resolution that called for a new limit on warheads.

"In terms of a work in progress there is a lot of work going on," he said.

He said he had no doubt Obama would accept the honour but that the president would be quick to accept it on behalf of all the American people who share his goals of peaceful diplomacy.

Critical timing 

Obama is only the third president to receive the Nobel Prize while in office. President Theodore Roosevelt won the award back in 1906 and President Woodrow Wilson was awarded the prize in 1919.

The Nobel committee received a record 205 nominations for the Peace Prize though the panel wouldn't disclose who nominated the president.

Among the candidates were Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a Colombian senator, a Chinese dissident and an Afghan woman's rights activist.

The move to give Obama the award is seen as the latest stab by the committee against Bush and his administration.

In 2002 former U.S. President Jimmy Carter received the Peace Prize for his efforts to mediate in international conflicts. Five years later, the committee honoured Bush's political adversary Al Gore for his campaign to raise awareness about global warming.

Alfred Nobel outlined in his will in 1895 that the prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."

Since then, the committee has often used a wide interpretation of Nobel's guidelines and have looked for nominees who have gone beyond peace mediation to include those who have worked against combating poverty, disease and climate change.

The prize puts renewed emphasis on Obama's campaign goals boost international diplomacy and comes at a time when the president has some critical decisions to make.

The president is expected to meet with his top advisors on Friday to discuss Afghanistan and the number of troops currently deployed in the war-stricken region. Obama is considering a request to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan as the war enters its ninth year.

Earlier this year, Obama sent in 21,000 additional troops to the region and has continued to use unmanned drones on attacks on militants though the battle strategy has often killed or injured civilians in the area.

Obama also continues to encourage talks between the Israelis and Palestinians after negotiations between the dueling neighbours stalled.

However, just a day after the president hosted the Israeli and Palestinian leader in New York late last month, Israeli officials said they had fended off U.S. pressure to halt settlement expansions in the disputed territories.

Moderate Palestinians complained they felt undermined by Obama's failure to back up his demand for a freeze on settlements.