Nuclear watchdog wins Nobel Prize

The 2005 Nobel Peace Prize was on Friday awarded to the United Nations’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its Egyptian director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, for their efforts against nuclear-weapons proliferation, the Nobel committee said.

The IAEA and its chief were honoured “for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way”, the committee said in its citation.

“At a time when the threat of nuclear arms is again increasing, the Norwegian Nobel committee wishes to underline that this threat must be met through the broadest possible international cooperation. This principle finds its clearest expression today in the work of the IAEA and its director general,” it said.

ElBaradei is the leading advocate of using diplomacy rather than force to counter the threat of nuclear proliferation from Iran to North Korea.

As director of the IAEA, the former Egyptian foreign ministry official leads the global effort to uncover nuclear threats to world peace, and he has shown a steely will even in the face of intense political pressure.

The seasoned 63-year-old diplomat has been at the centre of non-proliferation crises concerning the three countries United States President George Bush labelled the axis of evil—Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein, Iran and North Korea.

In the run-up to the US-led war against Iraq in 2003, ElBaradei pleaded at the UN for more time for inspections.

Washington was unwilling to wait. But it was later embarrassed on the world stage with revelations that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction.

A similar conflict has now shaped up over Iran, which the IAEA has found in breach of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The IAEA is threatening to bring Iran before the UN Security Council.

ElBaradei is still pleading for diplomacy to prevail, however, pressing for the issue to remain with the IAEA. The US says Iran is stalling for time to build a bomb.

This year, ElBaradei won a third term as chief of the Vienna-based IAEA, despite opposition from the US, which feels he is too soft on Iran, according to diplomats. ElBaradei, who first took the top job in 1997, had overwhelming support from the rest of the world community.

“Verification and diplomacy, used in conjunction, can be effective,” ElBaradei has said. “When inspections are accompanied by adequate authority, aided by all available information, backed by a credible compliance mechanism, and supported by international consensus, the verification system works.”

IAEA spokesperson Melissa Fleming said reconciling the interests of the 139 member states would be “impossible without ElBaradei’s leadership”.

“He provides a vision. He often reminds countries of their responsibilities in a way that makes it seem not only like a legal obligation but a moral responsibility,” Fleming said.

IAEA deputy director David Waller, who has worked “shoulder-to-shoulder” with ElBaradei for almost two decades, described him as “objective and fair”.

“He is extremely intelligent and when you combine that with fairness, you get a great leader,” Waller said.

Born on June 17 1942 in Egypt, ElBaradei, now married with two children, has been at the IAEA for two decades.

As director general, he has become a campaigner for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, with trademark responses to journalists’ questions that are often long but tightly argued, much like legal briefs.

ElBaradei studied law in Cairo before going on to New York University, where he later taught.

He started out at the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs in 1964 and then went to the UN as a member of Egypt’s permanent mission, both in New York and Geneva.

In 1984, he joined the IAEA as legal counsel and deputy director general for external relations.

ElBaradei’s Arab origins have been seen as an advantage, although Western sources have hinted that these very roots keep him from being tough enough on countries such as Iran.

“When a meeting has finished, he sometimes takes a participant to the side and talks to him in Arabic to insist on a certain point,” former IAEA spokesperson Mark Gwozdecky said in an interview with news agency AFP last year.

“Many Arabs have declared that he is one of them and that they can trust him ... but he does not focus on his Arabness,” Gwozdecky added. “He makes it very clear that he is a top UN official who represents the international community.”—AFP

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