Elbaradei, Mohamed (1942–)

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Elbaradei, Mohamed

Mohamed (Mostafa) ElBaradei (Muhammad al-Baraday) is an Egyptian diplomat, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a co-winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.


ElBaradei was born in Cairo, Egypt, on 17 June 1942 to a family of Muslim Egyptians. His father, Mostafa, was a lawyer who served as president of the Egyptian Bar Association, and his maternal grandfather, Ali Haydar Hijazi, sat on Egypt's supreme court. Mohamed ElBaradei received his B.A. in law from Cairo University in 1962. He began working with the Egyptian foreign ministry in 1964, and served with the Egyptian delegation to the United Nations (UN) in New York. While there, he received an LL.M. (1971) and a J.S.D. (1974) in law from New York University, and was in charge of the international law program at the UN's Institute for Training and Research. After completing his doctorate, he returned to the Egyptian foreign service and was posted with Egypt's delegation to the UN in Geneva. From 1974 to 1978 he was the special assistant to Egyptian foreign minister Ismail Fahmy.

In 1980 ElBaradei started working with the UN's Institute for Training and Research in New York. The following year, he also began teaching as an adjunct professor at New York University's law school. In 1984 ElBaradei began working with the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as its legal adviser and was tasked with opening its new office in New York. In 1993 he became its assistant director general for external relations, and on 1 December 1997 he became the IAEA's director general, replacing the Swedish diplomat Hans Blix. As of 2007, he remains in the post.


During his tenure as IAEA director general, ElBaradei has had to weather a number of difficulties and important challenges to international arms control. Throughout, he has demonstrated impartiality, integrity, an insistence upon detail, and—to the annoyance of certain powers such as the United States—a reluctance to force certain countries with which the IAEA is negotiating into a corner from which they may feel they have no way out but to go nuclear.


Name: Mohamed ElBaradei (Muhammad al-Baraday)

Birth: 1942, Cairo, Egypt

Family: Wife, Aida Elkachef; one son, Mostafa; one daughter, Laila

Nationality: Egyptian

Education: B.A. (law), Cairo University, 1962; LL.M. (law), New York University, 1971; J.S.D. (law), New York University, 1974


  • 1974: Named special assistant to Egyptian foreign minister Ismail Fahmy
  • 1980: Begins working with the United Nations' Institute for Training and Research in New York
  • 1984: Begins working as legal adviser with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
  • 1993: Appointed IAEA assistant director general for external relations
  • 1997: Made IAEA director general
  • 1998: Iraq expels IAEA weapons inspectors
  • 2002: Returns to Iraq with IAEA weapons inspectors; North Korea expels IAEA monitors; IAEA announces that Iran possesses a secret uranium enrichment program
  • 2003: Issues two reports on Iraqi compliance with IAEA inspectors
  • 2005: Wins Nobel Peace Prize; elected to third term as IAEA director general
  • 2007: Travels to North Korea for talks; announces that Iran is three to seven years away from being able to develop nuclear weapons

One such challenge for ElBaradei dealt with the lingering question of UN arms inspections in Iraq. In August 1998 Iraq stated that it was suspending cooperation with the arms inspectors, including those from the IAEA. IAEA inspectors, whose job since 1991 had been to search for evidence of Iraq's nuclear programs in order to certify that Iraq was without such a program to the UN Security Council, left Iraq in December 1998. In September 2002, with American-Iraqi tension rising, Iraq agreed to allow inspectors to return. On 27 January 2003, ElBaradei reported to the Security Council that, although IAEA inspectors could not definitively certify that Iraq had not restarted a nuclear weapons development program, it found no evidence that the Iraqis had resumed such a program after the IAEA-supervised destruction of its nuclear infrastructure in the early 1990s. Two months later, on 7 March 2003, ElBaradei—anxious to avoid a war against Iraq—again reported to the Security Council that there was no reason to believe that Iraq possessed any nuclear weapons capability, noting that there was "no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear-weapon program in Iraq." Several days later, the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, regardless. ElBaradei later called it the saddest day of his life.

In December 2002 ElBaradei faced another challenge when North Korea told the IAEA that it was resuming its nuclear program and was expelling the IAEA inspectors who had been monitoring the program. Almost four years later, in October 2006, the communist nation announced that it had successfully tested a nuclear bomb, the first time a country demonstrably had broken through the nuclear threshold since Pakistan's nuclear tests in May 1998. Although the IAEA could not be blamed for the test—its inspectors had left several years earlier in January 2003—it still came as a blow to the concept of international efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Later, in March 2007, ElBaradei traveled to North Korea for talks on its nuclear program in the wake of an international agreement on the issue reached among North Korea, the United States, China, and other parties.

Finally, Iranian nuclear ambitions provided a challenge to ElBaradei and the IAEA. In August 2002 the IAEA reported that it had discovered that Iran had a secret uranium enrichment program. Despite efforts to verify whether this program was for peaceful purposes, as Iran claimed, or was for a clandestine nuclear weapons program, as some suspected, ElBaradei was unable to make a definitive judgment. In a January 2006 interview published in Newsweek he stated, "For the last three years we have been doing intensive verification in Iran, and even after three years I am not yet in a position to make a judgment on the peaceful nature of the [nuclear] program." (Dickey, 2006). As with Iraq, ElBaradei was anxious to avoid a diplomatic showdown with Iran that could provide certain powers such as the United States the pretext for employing hostile action against Iran that could trigger a wider crisis.

The tension escalated when Iran removed IAEA seals from its enrichment equipment on 10 January 2006. ElBaradei and certain members of the IAEA board of governors did not wish to see the IAEA formally report Iran to the UN Security Council, which could trigger automatic Security Council sanctions on Iran and potentially lead to a crisis. Instead, the IAEA merely told the Security Council about Iranian noncompliance. The Security Council eventually imposed certain economic sanctions on Iran in December 2006 and again in March 2007.


Of course, a fundamental part of the non-proliferation bargain is the commitment of the five nuclear States recognized under the non-proliferation treaty—Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States—to move toward disarmament. Recent agreements between Russia and the United States are commendable, but they should be verifiable and irreversible. A clear road map for nuclear disarmament should be established—starting with a major reduction in the 30,000 nuclear warheads still in existence, and bringing into force the long-awaited Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty…. We must also begin to address the root causes of insecurity. In areas of longstanding conflict like the Middle East, South Asia and the Korean Peninsula, the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction—while never justified—can be expected as long as we fail to introduce alternatives that redress the security deficit. We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security—and indeed to continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their use.


At times it almost seemed as if the IAEA had its hands as full dealing with the government of the United States as it did dealing with Iran. In February 2006 ElBaradei publicly discussed a compromise deal with Iran whereby it would limit its enrichment program—which is allowed under the provisions of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—in return for importing nuclear fuel from Russia. The United States refused to consider such an arrangement, and continued to press for stronger action against Iran. Relations between the IAEA and Washington began to sour even more. The IAEA stated that a U.S. congressional report on the Iranian nuclear issue that was released in August 2006 contained incorrect information and was misleading. IAEA officials in general claimed that intelligence provided to them by the U.S. had been unreliable. ElBaradei also once stated that with the money that the United States spent not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the IAEA could be fully funded for thirty years.

In May 2007 ElBaradei stated than Iran was three to seven years away from being able to develop a nuclear weapon, and urged ongoing talks to avoid a crisis. The United States, however, continued to push for increased sanctions against Tehran within the Security Council.


ElBaradei is widely disliked within the administration of U.S. president George W. Bush. When ElBaradei's second term as IAEA director general was nearing completion, the United States went out of its way to have him replaced with someone else. On 12 December 2004, the Washington Post published a story indicating that the American government had secretly been tapping ElBaradei's phone, perhaps in the hopes of finding information to use against him. U.S. delegate to the UN John Bolton decried ElBaradei and his efforts at compromise, going so far as calling him an apologist for Iran. But ElBaradei was selected to fill the post for a third term in June 2005.

Much of the world, however, respects ElBaradei as a conscientious international civil servant. In a move that many considered a deliberate slap in the face of the Bush administration, ElBaradei received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the IAEA on 10 December 2005. In January 2006 Egyptian president HUSNI MUBARAK issued a decree conferring the Great Nile Medal on ElBaradei.


ElBaradei will be remembered as a well-respected and tireless worker for nuclear disarmament through negotiation during some of the IAEA's most trying times.


Benjamin, Daniel. "What Price Peace?" Law School: Magazine of the New York University School of Law 16 (Autumn 2006): 12. Available from http://www.law.nyu.edu.

Dickey, Christopher. "The Power of the Purse." Newsweek Interational, 20 October 2006.

ElBaradei, Mohamed. "Mohamed ElBaradei—Nobel Lecture." Nobelprize.org. Available from http://nobelprize.org.

――――――. "Saving Ourselves from Self-Destruction." New York Times (12 February 2004). Available from http://www.nytimes.com.

"Transcript of ElBaradei's U.N. Presentation." CNN. Updated 7 March 2003. Available from http://www.cnn.com.

                                    Michael R. Fischbach