VIENNA, Austria – Mohamed ElBaradei and his International Atomic Energy agency won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, leaving the chief U.N. nuclear inspector strengthened in a job he nearly lost because of a dispute with the United States over Iran and Iraq.

ElBaradei suggested winning the world’s most prestigious award vindicated his methods and goals – using diplomacy rather than confrontation and defusing tensions in multilateral negotiations that strive for consensus.

He also suggested the conflict with Washington was over, saying Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “wished me well” in a congratulatory phone call.

The Bush administration has bristled at ElBaradei’s positions on the nuclear threat posed by Iran and Iraq and unsuccessfully lobbied to block his appointment to a third and final four-year term this year. The endorsement by the Nobel committee was viewed as a major boost to the 63-year-old Egyptian and his mandate to curb nuclear proliferation.

ElBaradei (pronounced ehl-BEHR’-uh-day) and the IAEA locked horns with Washington in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war by challenging U.S. claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

More recently, ElBaradei’s refusal to back U.S. assertions that Iran has a covert nuclear weapons program hardened opposition to him within the Bush administration.

After the award was announced, ElBaradei refrained from criticizing the United States in comments to Associated Press Television News and two other media outlets.

“I don’t see it as a critique of the U.S.,” he said Friday. “We had disagreement before the Iraq war, honest disagreement. We could have been wrong, they could have been right.”

Instead, he said, the honor was “a message: ‘Hey guys, you need to get your act together you need to work together in multinational institutions.”‘

The award also was a signal “going to the Arab world, going to the Western world that we … have a lot in common and we need to work together to survive,” ElBaradei said.

Describing his phone conversation with Rice, he said they both “agreed that we will have to continue to work together” on issues including dispelling suspicions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and getting North Korea to return to the nonproliferation fold.

“The award sends a very strong message: ‘Keep doing what you are doing,”‘ he said. “We continue to believe that in all of our activities we have to be impartial, objective and work with integrity.”

In Washington, Rice reaffirmed in a statement that the Bush administration was “committed to working with the IAEA to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology.”

Nobel committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes also denied the award was meant as a slap at the United States.

“This is not a kick in the shin of any nation, any leader,” he said. “It is a challenge to all leaders in the world and all the world’s nations to go much further on the road toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons.”

The award was the highlight in the career of ElBaradei, who followed his father’s footsteps in becoming a lawyer before working as a diplomat for Egypt’s government and later a top aide to the foreign minister. He received a doctorate in international law at the New York University School of Law in 1974 and later became an adjunct professor there.

ElBaradei joined the IAEA in 1984 and rose through the ranks of the 139-nation agency, becoming its head in 1997.

Naturally shy, he grew into the job as the IAEA dealt with crises in Iraq, North Korea and Iran, becoming an ever more outspoken advocate of nonproliferation in comments that mutated from stilted statements to polished sound bites.

The Nobel committee recognized ElBaradei and the U.N. nuclear agency “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.”

“At a time when disarmament efforts appear deadlocked, when there is a danger that nuclear arms will spread both to states and to terrorist groups, and when nuclear power again appears to be playing an increasingly significant role, IAEA’s work is of incalculable importance,” it said in a statement.

ElBaradei and the agency had been among the favorites to win as speculation mounted the Nobel committee would seek to honor the victims of nuclear weapons and those who try to contain their use.

The committee has repeatedly awarded its peace prize to anti-nuclear weapons campaigners on the major anniversaries of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

Among the dozens of foreign leaders congratulating ElBaradei was German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder – a strong critic of the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam. He praised ElBaradei’s “courageous stand for an objective view of the situation in the run-up to the Iraq war.”

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf also applauded the choice – despite often tense relations with the IAEA, most recently over revelations of an enormous nuclear black market run by disgraced Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

ElBaradei’s agency has been pivotal in nearly three years of investigations into Iran’s suspect nuclear activities, including programs that can be used for making weapons.

Last month, the IAEA board put Iran on notice that it faces referral to the U.N. Security Council unless it dispels international concerns about it nuclear aims – despite ElBaradei’s private preference for a less confrontational approach.

The agency has had no control over North Korea since the country quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003. But ElBaradei has said he hopes to have his inspectors back in the country – the “sooner the better” – in the wake of North Korea’s announcement that it wants to end its atomic weapons program.

In Iraq, IAEA inspectors searched for evidence of a nuclear weapons program in the months ahead of the 2003 invasion but failed to find concrete evidence to back U.S. assertions that Saddam’s regime had such a program.

ElBaradei is the second Egyptian to win the Nobel Peace Prize. President Anwar Sadat received the honor in 1978 for signing a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

The Nobel committee received a record 199 nominations for the peace prize, which includes $1.3 million, a gold medal and a diploma. ElBaradei and the IAEA will share the award when they receive it Dec. 10 in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.



On the Net:

http://www.nobelprize.org

http://www.iaea.org


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