Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was "shocked" and the International Atomic Energy Agency he heads in ecstasy after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
New Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei
European leaders praised the decision by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award ElBaradei and the IAEA the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
"The job that the IAEA does every day is indespensable," German President Horst Köhler wrote in a letter to ElBaradei. "To ensure that nuclear energy is only used to peaceful ends ... demands courage and patience ... You have been a example of this in your years since taking over and have solidified and increased the reputation of the IAEA."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called the award a "very wise decision." French President Jacques Chirac praised the agency's "key contribution for this vital search for peace, stability and security throughout the world."
ElBaradei himself said he was moved to tears and "completely shocked" by the announcement, made Friday morning in Oslo.
"The award sends a very strong message: 'Keep doing what you are doing - be impartial, act with integrity' and that is what we intend to do," he said in a statement. "The advantage of having this recognition today, it will strengthen my resolve ... It is also "
Not a "difficult choice"
The IAEA had been one of the favorites of the record 199 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.
"In the world today, international cooperation in this area is decisive to ensure that we achieve a stable and good world," Nobel Committee president Old Danbolt Mjoes told reporters. "It was not an especially difficult choice this year." ElBaradei, a trained lawyer from Cairo, has been one of the world's most ferverent campaigners against nuclear proliferation. Since taking charge of the IAEA in 1997, ElBaradei has balanced the often differing demands of Europe, the United States and Arab countries in working towards a peacful solution to Iran and North Korea's nuclear plans. Despite some protest out of Washington, he was elected this year to a third fourth-year term as IAEA Director General.
Congratulations pour in
Compliments and congratulations have flowed in from all parts of the world. Most well-wishers say the award comes at an important juncture for the IAEA, which recently voted to let the UN Security Council handle Iran's dogged resistance to giving up its nuclear ambitions.
The Isfahan uranium conversion facility in central Iran has been the thorn in the IAEA's efforts to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions
"It has not always been easy for the IAEA to secure the reousrces they need from member states," said Ian Anthony, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. "If this is a strong signal which allows them to generate resources to carry out the work they do effectively, then it is a very positive outcome."
Started in 1957, the Vienna agency monitored nuclear proliferation and the arms race during the Cold War. Recently, the focus has been less on superpowers than on ensuring nuclear weapons technology doesn't get into the wrong hands.
Defying Washington claims
In the months leading up to the March 2003 military invasion of Iraq, the agency worked hard to map the location of the country's weapons of mass destruction. IAEA inspectors strongly contradicted Washington's claims that Iraq had such weapons, a view that is widely held today.
Over the past year, the UN agency and its head have been instrumental in the thorny negotiations in Iran and North Korea that have brought the dangers of nuclear proliferation to the forefront of international consciousness.
The deal with North Korea last month was "a first step" towards the country's de-nuclearization.
The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors this year found Iran guilty of violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and has threatened to take the country before the UN Security Council.
Some reserved in praise
"I am optimistic that in the coming months we will see a
resumption of these negotiations," ElBaradei said earlier this
week. The agency has also helped push forth a six-party North Korean nuclear agreement last month, which it described as "a first step toward the goal of the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner."
Others were more reserved in their praise. Shimon Peres, the Israel deputy prime minister who was himself a Nobel peace laureate told Israeli radio that "(ElBaradei) is a worthy winner, although not the perfect choice.
"There are many holes in the apparatus (to prevent arms proliferation) such as in the case of Iran," said Peres. "But ... the agency has contributed much to halt the arms race and to prevent (weapons) from falling into dangerous hands."