OSLO, Norway – The International Atomic Energy Agency and its Egyptian chief Mohamed ElBaradei won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
ElBaradei, 63, has headed the U.N. nuclear agency as it grappled with the crisis 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,” the Nobel Committee’s chairman, Geir Lundestad, said in announcing the prize.
The committee recognized “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.”
The agency and ElBaradei had been among the names mentioned as speculation mounted in recent days that the Nobel committee would seek to honor the victims of nuclear weapons and those who try to contain their use.
A record 199 nominations were received for the prize, which includes $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 Flemming said: “I never thought we’d see this day. This is the proudest day for the IAEA. We are proud, astonished, elated.”
The Nobel Committee said ElBaradei, a lawyer, and the agency he heads 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 Nobel Committee said in announcing the award.
“In the nuclear non-proliferation regime, it is the IAEA which controls that nuclear energy is not misused for military purposes, and the director general has stood out as an unafraid advocate of new measures to strengthen that regime.
“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 that as a friend and colleague of ElBaradei, he was “very happy on his behalf.”
“It is very encouraging and fortunate,” Blix said. “I see it as an endorsement of the professional and independent role of the IAEA and of international verification in the field of nuclear power and non-proliferation.”
Under ElBaradei, the IAEA has risen 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 from Egypt took a strident line as he guided the agency through the most serious troubles it 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 who were monitoring a mothballed nuclear complex. Pyongyang said the plant needed to go back on line in light 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.
“Mohammad 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 occupation force remains in the country.