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U.N. Nuclear Monitor Wins Nobel Peace Prize

The IAEA and its leader are recognized for their nonproliferation efforts at a tense time.

October 08, 2005|Maggie Farley and Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writers

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency and its director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei, won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

As head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, ElBaradei has "stood out as an unafraid advocate" of new ways to ensure that nuclear energy is not misused for military purposes, the Nobel committee said in awarding the $1.3-million prize. It called the IAEA's work of "incalculable importance" at a time when fears are mounting that nuclear arms could be acquired by more countries and by extremist groups and many believe the 1970 nonproliferation treaty is losing its effectiveness.

The award gives the agency a badly needed "shot in the arm," said ElBaradei, who has clashed with Washington over the IAEA's preference for diplomacy over confrontation with Iran and its prewar pleas that inspectors be given more time to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

ElBaradei, 63, whose agency disputed U.S. claims that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear technology at the time, called the 2003 launch of the U.S.-led invasion "the saddest day of my life."

A tall, reserved man who has sought to balance the conflicting demands of the nuclear haves and have-nots, ElBaradei greeted the news of his award with a tone of deep, quiet pride.

"The award sends a very strong message, which is keep doing what you are doing," he said at a news conference in Vienna, where the IAEA, which monitors and oversees the development of nuclear technology in its nearly 140 member nations, is based.

"The advantage of having this recognition today," he added, "is that it will strengthen my resolve. The fact that there is overwhelming public support for our work definitely will help to resolve some of the major outstanding issues we are facing today, including North Korea, including Iran and nuclear disarmament."

The Nobel committee chairman, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, told reporters in Oslo that the award was not meant as a criticism of Washington or President Bush but as support for multilateralism.

"This is not a kick in the legs to any country," he said. A former Nobel committee chairman had described the 2002 prize to former President Carter as "a kick in the legs" to Bush.

The recognition comes at a crucial juncture for the IAEA, which has been pulled in opposite directions by developed nations that already have nuclear technology and others that do not.

The most recent controversy concerns Iran's pursuit of nuclear fuel cycle technology. The Islamic Republic says it wants to enrich uranium for peaceful energy purposes, but because it kept its program secret for 18 years, the suspicion is widespread that the country's ultimate goal is the production of a nuclear weapon.

ElBaradei has tried to encourage a compromise, strongly reprimanding Iran for its failure to provide the information requested by his inspectors, but also time expressing reticence toward the more confrontational approach of developed countries, led by Britain, France, Germany and the United States.

The Nobel committee seemed to affirm ElBaradei's strategy of defusing a dispute with Iran over its nuclear program through incentives instead of threats, which he fears would cause the nation to pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and distance itself further from international pressure.

The United States and others would like to immediately bring Iran's case to the U.N. Security Council, where it could face sanctions. The IAEA board passed a watered-down resolution last month putting Iran on notice that it faces referral to the council for noncompliance -- but at an unspecified date.

The prestige of the Nobel Prize will probably strengthen the IAEA's hand in dealing with both Iran and the United States. "Anything that increases the gravitas, the credibility or the authority of the IAEA or ElBaradei personally can only help," said Jon Wolfstahl, an arms control specialist with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"Right now, we're battling with Iran over the question of international credibility," Wolfstahl said. "The question is: Do you believe the United States, Iran or the IAEA? To the extent that the IAEA either finds Iran in violation of its treaty obligations or determines it to be cooperating, I think the Nobel will strengthen its word."

Bush administration officials, who had opposed ElBaradei's candidacy for a third term as the IAEA's chief, expressed muted congratulations after Friday's announcement. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned ElBaradei to wish him well and issued a statement saying the award was "well deserved."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan termed the award "a wake-up call" to the perils of nuclear conflict at a time when the nonproliferation treaty is challenged and Iran and North Korea stand on the brink of confrontation with the developed world over their nuclear programs.

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