Nuclear Arms Inspectors Get Peace Prize

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 8, 2005

The International Atomic Energy Agency and its director, Mohamed ElBaradei, won the 2005 Nobel Prize for Peace yesterday for their efforts to prevent the spread of atomic weapons and promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The award for the 63-year-old ElBaradei and his army of international inspectors was seen within the U.N.-sponsored organization as a vindication of its work in Iraq before the war and currently in Iran, where they are leading a cautious investigation of that country's nuclear program while promoting diplomacy as a way of resolving the crisis there.

In announcing its selection yesterday at a ceremony in Oslo, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said ElBaradei "stood as an unafraid advocate" for disarmament, relying on diplomacy, rather than confrontation, to rid the world of nuclear threats.

"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.

ElBaradei, who opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and spent the last year fending off attempts by the White House to push him out of the agency, said he was "humbled" and strengthened by what he saw as an international vote of confidence in an agency that has been battered by conflict with Washington.

"I hope this will enhance our credibility and our visibility and that our word will be taken for what it is," he said in a telephone interview yesterday from his home in Vienna. He said he was tremendously proud of his 2,000-member staff, including those who have worked on a string of high-profile nuclear investigations in Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Libya.

"They have been through a hard time, they've taken hits from many corners and have been accused of being biased. I think this is a wonderful recognition of their honesty, their impartiality and their integrity," he said.

One year ago, the Bush administration was waging a vigorous but solitary campaign to oust ElBaradei -- including a complete halt of intelligence sharing with the agency, recruitment of potential replacements and eavesdropping on his calls in search of ammunition to use against him.

The United States helped install ElBaradei in his job eight years ago, but his refusal in 2003 to confirm White House allegations that Iraq had rebuilt its nuclear weapons program lost ElBaradei the American support he had enjoyed.

When he began openly resisting U.S. calls to intensify pressure on Iran, Washington responded by trying to prevent him from taking a third term as agency director. But the effort, led by John R. Bolton, who was in charge of nuclear issues during President Bush's first term, was abandoned in June when no candidate emerged to challenge ElBaradei.

Bolton, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, offered a tepid response to the announcement, saying only that he shared in the congratulations offered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Asked by reporters whether he saw the prize as a rebuff to U.S. strategy, Bolton said: "I'll stick with the secretary's statement."

Rice called ElBaradei yesterday to congratulate him and issued a warm statement praising the agency's work and pledging continued cooperation.

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