Accessibility links

Peace Prize Winner Sees Support for Position on Nuclear Issues

United Nations nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei and his agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, were named winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, Friday. From Vienna, where the IAEA is headquartered, Marlene Smith has this profile of Mr. ElBaradei.

As director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the former Egyptian foreign ministry official has been committed to uncovering global nuclear threats. The seasoned 63-year-old diplomat has been at the center of non-proliferation crises concerning the three states President Bush has labeled as the "axis of evil" - Iraq, under the rule of Saddam Hussein, Iran and North Korea.

Mr. ElBaradei has led the International Atomic Energy Agency at a time of transition. Once an agency mired in the bureaucratic task of monitoring nuclear sites worldwide, the IAEA soon became a key player in nuclear disarmament efforts around the world.

The first real challenge for Mr. ElBaradei, who took the helm at the agency in 1997, was the agency's inspections in Iraq, amid suspicions that Saddam Hussein was secretly developing nuclear weapons. His assertion in 2003 that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq put him at odds with the United States, as it was preparing for war there.

Most recently, his focus has been on Iran. The IAEA is trying to establish whether that country has a secret nuclear weapons program.

Reacting to the Nobel Peace Prize announcement, Mr. ElBaradei said the award will be helpful as he continues his work.

"The fact that there is overwhelming support for our work definitely will, hopefully, help me to resolve some of the major outstanding issues we are facing today, including North Korea, including Iran, the dissemination of the fuel cycle, nuclear disarming issues," he said.

Mr. ElBaradei was expected by many to win the Nobel Peace Prize last year. On Friday, there was jubilation in the IAEA offices in Vienna when his name and the agency he runs were announced as winners of the coveted prize, worth $1.3 million.

Mr. ElBaradei was born in Cairo in 1942. He studied law at the University of Cairo, and got a doctorate in international law in 1974 from the New York University School of Law, to which he returned as an adjunct professor in the 1980s. He began his diplomatic career early, serving in Egypt's U.N. missions in New York and Geneva in the 1960s and early 1970s. From 1974 to 1978, he was a special assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister.

He first came to the IAEA in 1984 as a senior member of the secretariat.

Upon becoming IAEA chief in 1997, Mr. ElBaradei enjoyed the support of the United States. But Washington initially opposed his renomination this year to a third term, saying he was being too soft on Iran for not declaring it in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But Mr. ElBaradei enjoyed widespread support from other nations, and the United States dropped its objections to his continuing to head the IAEA. After he met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in June, a State Department spokesman said the two agreed on the urgency of halting the spread of nuclear weapons technology and that the IAEA's focus should be placed on Iran.

Secretary Rice expressed pleasure at the Nobel announcement Friday, and Undersecretary of State Nicolas Burns voiced the United States reaction this way.

"We have great respect for him," he said. "We are genuinely pleased that this very important international institution is being recognized by the Nobel committee in Oslo. It is well-deserved."

At the U.N.'s Vienna headquarters, diplomats say Mr. ElBaradei now has his eyes on the post of U.N. Secretary-General, as the possible successor to Kofi Annan.