Friday, October 07, 2005

US Reacts Warmly to ElBaradei, Iran Less Sure

The United States, which has severely criticized him in the past, reacted relatively warmly on Friday to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

But despite ElBaradei's attempt to achieve a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, Tehran's reaction was more guarded.

Both the White House and State Department welcomed the honor conferred on the agency without mentioning past disagreements over Iraq's suspected arsenal or initial US resistance to a third term for ElBaradei as IAEA chief.

"I congratulate the International Atomic Energy Agency and its director general, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, on being awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "We congratulate Dr ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

"We also welcome the committee recognition of the importance of stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons as the largest financial contributor to the International Atomic Energy Agency. We strongly support those efforts."

Only last December, the White House sought to limit El Baradei to a two-year term, but relented in June for a lack of an alternative candidate. "You work with what you've got," a State Department official said at that time.

ElBaradei's last report on Iran was notable for its critical tone and the IAEA chief said the prize would "strengthen his resolve," provoking Iranian officials to acknowledge concern.

In Tehran, a top Iranian official who asked not to be named, said, "Since the start of the crisis, Mohamed ElBaradei always resisted US pressure and his reports were more technical. But recently, for some reason, he has changed his position and his last report was very political." READ MORE

Kazem Jalali, spokesman of parliament's foreign affairs committee, feared that "ElBaradei will become closer to the political position of the United States and the Europeans, especially on the nuclear issue. And he will put more pressure on Iran."

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, himself a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1994, described the award as "a warning to Iran because Iran is today the biggest and most dangerous problem."

But Egyptian political analyst Emad Gad of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies said ElBaradei "does not exert the same pressure on Iran as on Israel, even though Israel possesses nuclear weapons."

Former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said he had recruited ElBaradei to the Vienna-based IAEA and the award was a recognition of "the path we took together".

"This strengthens ElBaradei's position further. He has persistently acted independently and professionally," he said.

He also praised the IAEA and ElBaradei for preventing dangerous technology "from falling into the hands of terrorists."

Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik of host country Austria said, "the responsibility, the impartiality and the professional competence with which the IAEA carries out its task are exemplary and above all suspicion.

"At a time of great challenges in the nuclear domain, this award reinforces the agency in its daily work."

President Pervez Musharraf of nuclear-armed Pakistan said ElBaradei had contributed to "a climate of understanding and cooperation" that had earned him "the confidence and trust of the international community."

French President Jacques Chirac congratulated ElBaradei and the IAEA for their "indispensable" work against nuclear proliferation.

France, with Britain and Germany, have led EU negotiations with Iran to try to curtail the latter's nuclear development programme.

Regarding Iran, Chirac said the prize was "an encouragement to actively pursue, with the IAEA, efforts towards a lasting political settlement of the crisis of confidence created by this country's clandestine activities."

Italy's President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in a message to ElBaradei said the prize "rewards your untiring commitment and that of the IAEA against proliferation of nuclear weapons and in favour of the peaceful use of atomic energy."

Calling the award "incredibly gratifying," Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said, "The commitment of the IAEA in marshalling efforts towards the spread of nuclear weapons was not only outstanding but also a major service to humanity."

Sharp dissent, however, came from environmental organizations, with Russia's Ecodefense accusing ElBaradei of seeking to turn Siberia into a dumping ground for nuclear waste.

Ecologist Alexei Yablokov said he was shocked by the award to an organization that he alleged had sought to play down the repercussions of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Other green activists and anti-nuclear campaigners said the IAEA had worsened the peril of global nuclear proliferation rather than eased it.