OSLO, Norway (AP) – Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency that he heads won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Friday for their efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
ElBaradei, an Egyptian lawyer, has led the U.N. nuclear agency as it grappled with the crises in Iraq and the ongoing efforts to prevent North Korea and Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
"Everyone who has contributed to the IAEA has a part in this important prize," Nobel committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes said as he announced the prize.
The Nobel Committee was recognizing "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."
ElBaradei and the agency had been among the favorites to win the prize in the days leading up to the announcement, as speculation mounted that the Nobel committee would seek to honor the victims of nuclear weapons and those who try to contain their use.
"This is a message to all the people of the world: Do what you can to get rid of nuclear weapons," said Mjoes. "The people”s power is formidable."
The committee has repeatedly awarded its prize to anti-nuclear weapons campaigners on the major anniversaries of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
On the 50th anniversary, in 1995, the prize went to anti-nuclear campaigner Joseph Rotblat and his Pugwash group. In 1985, it went to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and in 1975 to Soviet nuclear scientist-turned-anti-nuclear campaigner Andrei Sakharov.
"We will never give up and we must never give in," said Mjoes about the committee”s ongoing demand that nuclear weapons be banned.
A record 199 nominations were received for the prize, which includes 10 million kronor (¤1 million; US$1.3 million), a gold medal and a diploma. ElBaradei and the IAEA will share the award when they receive it on Dec. 10 in the Norwegian capital.
In Vienna, where the agency is based, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said: «This is the most proud moment of my career at the IAEA. I never thought we”d see this day. This is the proudest day for the IAEA. We are proud, astonished, elated. For an organization like us there is no prouder award."
The Nobel Committee said ElBaradei and the agency should be recognized for addressing one of the greatest dangers facing the world.
"At a time when the threat of nuclear arms is again increasing, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to underline that this threat must be met through the broadest possible international cooperation. This principle finds its clearest expression today in the work of the IAEA and its director general,» the committee said.
It added, "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."
Former chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told The Associated Press in Stockholm that as a friend and colleague of ElBaradei, he was "very happy on his behalf."
He said the IAEA is best equipped to deal with nuclear situations such as those in Iran and North Korea. "It is trying to look at this calmly and find diplomatic solutions," he said. "But it must be based on factual and professional observation and verification, and that”s what the IAEA has been able to do. So I congratulate them."
Stein Toennesson, director of the Peace Research Institute – Oslo, said he was surprised by the prize”s timing because the IAEA is still trying to solve the Iran crisis without sending it to the U.N. Security Council.
"The prize was given to someone who did not have success during the year," he said. "We have to see the prize as, implicitly, an expression of hope that the Iran question can be solved within the IAEA."
Toennesson said it was a bold move for the committee to the prize to the agency at a time when its members strongly disagree on how to handle Iran. "The committee stuck its finger in a wasps” nest," he said.
ElBaradei has led the International Atomic Energy Agency as it rose in prominence from a nondescript bureaucracy monitoring nuclear sites worldwide to a pivotal institution at the vortex of efforts to disarm the two regimes.
The austere and methodical diplomat took a strident line as he guided the IAEA through the most serious troubles it had faced since the end of the Cold War.
He accused North Korea, for example, of "nuclear brinkmanship" in December 2002 after it expelled two inspectors monitoring a mothballed nuclear complex.
Pyongyang said the plant needed to go back on line because of an electricity shortage.
Norway”s outgoing Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik said it was "gratifying" that IAEA and ElBaradei won the peace prize.
"This is a homage to their crucial efforts to stop nuclear proliferation, in order to prevent the use of such weapons in conflicts between states or in terrorist attacks," he said. "Mohamed El Baradei is an outstanding leader with great integrity. He has always sought to achieve results by negotiations. We saw this clearly during the period before the Iraq war, when he all the way to the end requested that the international weapons inspectors continue their work."
Ultimately, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq and no weapons of mass destruction were found. An international force remains in the country.