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Nobel Peace Prize Goes To El-Baradei

Prague 7 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations' nuclear watchdog and its chief have won this year's Nobel Peace Prize. The award, one of the world's top accolades, went to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Muhammad el-Baradei for their efforts against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The head of the Norwegian Nobel committee, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, made the announcement at the Nobel Institute in Oslo.

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2005 is to be shared in two equal parts between the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] and its director-general, Muhammad el-Baradei, 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," Mjoes said.

The Egyptian el-Baradei has led the UN nuclear agency since 1997 through a succession of nuclear crises from Iraq to North Korea.

His work has won him many plaudits -- but also criticism.

In the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq two years ago, he annoyed the United States when he stood by findings that there was no evidence Saddam Hussein’s regime had restarted its nuclear weapons development program.

More recently, the IAEA has found Iran in noncompliance with international nuclear proliferation safeguards. The agency’s board of governors stated last month that Tehran will be referred to the UN Security Council if it fails to alter its nuclear policy.

Mjoes said that at a time when the threat of nuclear arms is again increasing el-Baradei had "stood out as an unafraid advocate" of new measures to strengthen the regime of nuclear nonproliferation.

"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," Mjoes said.

Speaking to reporters in Vienna following the announcement, el-Baradei said "I think the prize recognizes the number one danger we are facing today and that is the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons, the continuing existence of thousands of nuclear weapons, and the prospect of nuclear terrorism."

"The [Nobel] Committee recognizes that these dangers and others can only be resolved through the broadest possible international cooperation and recognizes, in awarding the award to the agency [IAEA] and myself, the role of multilateralism in resolving all the challenges we are facing today," he added. "The prize will strengthen my resolve and that of my colleagues to continue to speak truth to power, to continue to speak our minds. We have no hidden agenda except to ensure that our world continues to be safe and humane."

He noted that he shared the prize with the IAEA as a whole, saying, "the prize has been awarded not only to me, but to the agency (IAEA), to every single staff member of the agency, and I am very gratified for that because it is [because of] these wonderful men and women, whom you see around you here, that we are where we are today."

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said earlier that it was the agency's proudest moment.

And congratulations have been quick to come in from around the world.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was delighted, saying the prize was a welcome reminder of the need to address nuclear disarmament.

French President Jacques Chirac, speaking at a joint press conference with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair in Paris, congratulated el-Baradei. Blair added his praise as well.

"I endorse entirely [President Chirac's] congratulations to Mr. el-Baradei and to the Atomic Energy Agency on the receipt of the Nobel Prize," Blair said. "It is well deserved and very important and shows the significance that is attached to the work that that agency does."

The IAEA and el-Baradei had been tipped as frontrunners for the Nobel Prize, partly because nuclear crises over Iran and North Korea have dominated headlines this year. It's also 60 years since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Last year the peace prize went to the Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, for her campaign to plant trees across Africa.

That all led to speculation that this year the prize would go to an individual or organization more engaged in peace or disarmament efforts.

In his will, Alfred Nobel, the man who founded the prize, listed disarmament as a key criterion -- something the committee mentioned in their citation today.

(compiled from agency reports)

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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