Mohamed El Baradei

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Mohamed ElBaradei

Mohamed ElBaradei (born 1942), Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. Later that year he was appointed to a third term as IAEA director.

A lifelong diplomat and one of just a few individuals from the Arab world active at the top levels of the world of international relations, ElBaradei was active in trying to resolve conflicts at several of the world's major flashpoints, all of them involving new nuclear threats. The IAEA, an intergovernmental organization affiliated with the United Nations (UN), conducts inspections and negotiates with governments in an attempt to stop the spread of nuclear weaponry and to insure that nuclear materials are used exclusively for peaceful purposes. ElBaradei's activities brought him into conflict with the United States in the twin trouble spots of Iraq and Iran, but the Nobel Prize and his subsequent reappointment signaled a strong vote of confidence from the international community.

Won Squash Tournament

ElBaradei (the name is generally spelled without a hyphen in Western lettering but appears as El-Baradei on the website of the Egypt State Information Service) was born into a professional family in Cairo, Egypt, on June 17, 1942. His father, Mostafa ElBaradei, was a lawyer who once became president of Egypt's national bar association. ElBaradei's mother, Aida Hegazi, recalled (according to America's Intelligence Wire) that her son was a standout from an early age. "I hope he has a bright future," his kindergarten teacher told Hegazi. "I can tell he is brilliant." As a boy he loved athletics, excelling at squash and winning a national tournament in that sport. But as time went on, he decided that he wanted to take after his father, and enrolled in law school at the University of Cairo.

ElBaradei received his law degree in 1962, and two years after that, at the age of 22, he joined the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "His early diplomatic training is apparent in everything he does—from the relaxed but careful way he talks to journalists, to his dealings with countries' nuclear programs," noted a BBC News profile. Twice he was sent abroad to Egypt's United Nations missions, once to Geneva, Switzerland, and once to New York City, New York. There he enrolled at New York University (NYU) and earned a doctoral degree in international law in 1974. As part of Egypt's UN delegation he had responsibility for political, legal, and arms control issues. He also became a lifelong fan of the New York Knickerbockers' professional basketball team.

Becoming a special assistant to Egypt's Foreign Minister, ElBaradei was part of the delegation that traveled to the U.S. presidential retreat of Camp David in 1978 and concluded a groundbreaking set of peace accords with Israel. A youthful star of the international diplomatic corps, he took a job in 1980 with the United Nations as a senior fellow, directing the program in international law at the UN Institute for Training and Research. This post took ElBaradei back to New York City, where he served from 1981 through 1987 as an adjunct professor of international law at NYU.

Familiar with a wide range of legal and diplomatic issues, ElBaradei joined the IAEA as a legal adviser in 1984. He held several policy posts within the organization, rising to assistant director-general for external relations in 1993. The IAEA is based in Vienna, Austria, and ElBaradei made his home there with his wife, Aida Elkachef, and the couple's son, Mostafa, and daughter, Laila. Mostafa became a television director, Laila a lawyer; both live in London. Aida Elkachef worked as an early childhood educator. "I find a lot in common in the way I manage things and the way Aida manages three-year-olds," ElBaradei observed to Jennifer Cunningham of the Glasgow, Scotland, Herald. "We humans are the same when we are three years old and when we are 50."

Named IAEA Director-General

In 1997 ElBaradei succeeded Hans Blix of the Netherlands as director-general of the IAEA. He was backed for the post neither by Blix nor by the Egyptian government, but it was due partly to the influence of the United States (ironically, in view of the conflicts that were to come) that ElBaradei won the support of a majority of the member governments on the IAEA board. At the time, his background seemed to have an ideal mix of Western education and familiarity with the Third World. "ElBaradei is exactly the kind of person you would want in the role—someone from a developing country who has a Western intellect but a Third World sensitivity," former U.S. IAEA ambassador John Ritch told Tom Hundley of the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. The IAEA board appointed ElBaradei to a second term in 2001.

Up to this point, ElBaradei's name was little known except among those who followed arms control efforts, but the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, led to a period of international tension concerning the possibility that terrorists or rogue states might acquire nuclear weaponry. In his 2002 State of the Union address, U.S. President George W. Bush charged that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea constituted an "axis of evil" that sponsored terrorism at the state level, and that all three of those states had historically been involved in attempts to manufacture an atomic bomb. Lurking in the background was renegade Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, who gave technical assistance to a variety of nuclear aspirants. Suddenly ElBaradei's name was in the headlines, and his work was closely scrutinized.

The immediate area of concern was Iraq, where the Persian Gulf War (1991) had uncovered a clandestine nuclear program proceeding under the direction of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. That program, ElBaradei reported, had been largely dismantled after the war, but U.S. diplomats, led by Secretary of State Colin Powell, claimed that it had been restarted on several fronts. A team of United Nations inspectors, led by Blix and including ElBaradei, went to Iraq to search for banned weapons, but found none. The United States went ahead with its case for war, despite ElBaradei's March 7, 2003, announcement before the United Nations Security Council that a piece of evidence central to the U.S. argument, a letter pertaining to the alleged purchase of uranium by Iraq from the African country of Niger, had been shown to be a forgery.

A small coalition of countries led by the United States and Great Britain invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, and U.S. officials were reportedly angered by ElBaradei's challenges to their claims about Iraq's nuclear program. Iraq, however, was not the only state on ElBaradei's nuclear proliferation agenda. North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors and remained, in ElBaradei's view, a serious threat. "My gut feeling is that they have a [nuclear] capability," he told Newsweek. "They probably have enough plutonium to make a few bombs. That makes [North Korea] the most dangerous proliferation situation … a country that is completely beleaguered, isolated, has nothing to lose and a weapons capability." Talks involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States led to preliminary agreement by North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program in 2005, but North Korea remained a nuclear danger point.

Favored European Approach in Iran

In Iran, where a dissident group revealed the existence of a nuclear weapons program unknown to the IAEA, ElBaradei was pressed by the United States to take a hard line by referring the matter immediately to the U.N. Security Council. ElBaradei agreed (as quoted in Newsweek) that "Iran's policy of concealment over a number of years [has] created a confidence deficit," but he favored a European Union-backed strategy of negotiation. "You will never solve your problem until you sit around the dinner table and put your grievances on the table and find out how to move forward," he told the Chicago Tribune. "Some people equate that with being soft—that if you do not pound on the table and if you do not scream, then you are being soft. I think this is a total misconception." ElBaradei's approach contributed to an agreement by Iran in November of 2004 to temporarily halt its nuclear program, but the issue flared again in 2005.

In October of 2005 ElBaradei was named the winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. The award was seen by some as a rebuke to the United States for its largely unilateral approach to the Iraq situation, but Nobel committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes said (according to the Tribune) that the selection was "not a kick in the legs to any country." ElBaradei agreed. "I don't see it as a critique of the U.S.," he was quoted as saying in the Seattle Times. "We had disagreement before the Iraq war, honest disagreement. We could have been wrong; they could have been right." ElBaradei said (as quoted in the Tribune) that the award "recognizes the role of multilateralism in resolving all the challenges we face today," and that it would "strengthen my resolve and that of my colleagues to speak truth to power." As an international black market in nuclear arms components grew, ElBaradei argued, multinational cooperation became more and more important, and he criticized existing nuclear powers, including the United States, for their lack of progress in arms control. ElBaradei was Egypt's fourth Nobel Prize winner, following president Anwar Sadat, novelist Naguib Mahfouz, and chemist Ahmed Zewail. The selection of ElBaradei followed a pattern: figures devoted to the control of nuclear arms had been chosen for Nobel awards on several anniversaries of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945.

The United States, led by hardline U.N. ambassador John Bolton and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, attempted to derail ElBaradei's bid for a third term as IAEA director-general, proposing Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer instead. But the American delegation got nowhere with other countries represented on the IAEA board, and had to retreat after evidence surfaced that U.S. intelligence services had tapped ElBaradei's office phone. ElBaradei was unanimously approved for a third term in October of 2005, and he said that he considered his disagreements with the United States to be closed questions. The Bush White House offered congratulations on his reappointment.

Even after receiving the Nobel Prize, ElBaradei continued to receive criticism from some observers on both ends of the political spectrum. Conservative National Review commentator Jay Nordlinger derided ElBaradei as "the classic international-organization man"; he quoted writer Joshua Muravchik's contention that "for 'rogue' regimes, the IAEA has presented few barriers." From a different perspective came critiques by several Arab commentators described in Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly Online, who argued "that the IAEA chief would have never received the prize had it not been for his determined avoidance of any criticism of Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity"—though Israel is generally believed to possess nuclear weapons, it has never officially confirmed them. As the Iranian situation heated up again at the end of 2005, with the country's Islamist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's announcements that the country would move toward restarting its uranium enrichment program, ElBaradei's third term promised to be a busy one. He has often stated that his greatest fear is that nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of terrorists.


America's Intelligence Wire, October 7, 2005.

Chicago Tribune, October 7, 2005.

Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), October 8, 2005.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, February 1, 2005.

National Review, November 7, 2005.

Newsweek, February 9, 2004; July 11, 2005.

New York Times, October 8, 2005.

Seattle Times, October 8, 2005.

U.S. News & World Report, October 17, 2005.


"Atoms for peace," Al-Ahram Weekly Online, (January 6, 2006).

"Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei: Director General," International Atomic Energy Agency, (January 6, 2006).

"Mohamed El-Baradei," Egypt State Information Service, (January 6, 2006).

"Profile: Mohamed ElBaradei," BBC News, (January 6, 2006).

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Mohamed ElBaradei

Director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency

Born June 17, 1942, in Cairo, Egypt; son of Mostafa ElBaradei (an attorney); married Aida Elkachef (a preschool teacher); children: Laila, Mostafa. Education: University of Cairo, bachelor's degree, 1962; New York University School of Law, doctorate, 1974.

Addresses: OfficeInternational Atomic Energy Agency, PO Box 100, Wagramer Strasse 5, A-1400 Vienna, Austria.


Worked with Egyptian Diplomatic Service, 1964-80; for the service, twice served as part of the Permanent Missions of Egypt to the United Nations; served as a special assistant to Egypt's Foreign Minister, 1974-78; senior fellow in charge of International Law Program, United Nations Institute for Training and Research, New York, NY, 1980-87; adjunct professor of international law, New York University, New York, NY, 1981-87; hired as a senior staff member of the International Atomic Energy Agency Secretariat, 1984; became the agency's legal advisor and later assistant director general for external relations; appointed director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 1997; appointed to third term as agency head, 2005.

Member: International Law Association, American Society of International Law.

Awards: Nobel Peace Prize (with the International Atomic Energy Agency), 2005; High Nile Sash, Egyptian government, 2006.


After beginning his career serving the Egyptian government as a diplomat and aide, Mohamed ElBaradei eventually became the head of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This group is the world's watchdog on all thing nuclear, and a continual source of controversy among nations already possessing nuclear capacities as well as countries who want to join their ranks. Though a somewhat contentious public figure because of his job, ElBaradei was elected to his third term as the head of IAEA in 2005. He and the agency were also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that year for their work.

Born in 1942, in Cairo, Egypt, ElBaradei was one of four children born to an attorney, Mostafa ElBaradei. His father was once the president of the Egyptian Bar Association. He was also a supporter of democratic rights in Egypt, supporting a free press and a legal system that was independent. ElBaradei followed in his father's footsteps, graduating from the University of Cairo with a bachelor's degree in law in 1962.

Two years later after earning his degree, ElBaradei began working with the Egyptian Diplomatic Service. For the next sixteen years, he was employed in the service and lived abroad. ElBaradei was twice a part of the Permanent Missions representing Egypt in the United Nations (UN), stationed in both New York City and Geneva, Switzerland. He primarily dealt with issues related to arms control, as well as political and legal questions. As a member of the diplomatic service, ElBaradei was a part of the Egyptian-Israeli peace talks at Camp David in the United States in the late 1970s.

While living in New York, ElBaradei continued his education. In 1974, he earned his doctorate in international law from New York University. That year, ElBaradei began working for the Foreign Minister of Egypt as a special assistant. ElBaradei held that post for four years, before returning to the Egyptian Diplomatic Service.

In 1980, ElBaradei began a new phase of his professional life when he was hired by the UN in New York. He worked for the United Nations Institute for Training and Research as a senior fellow and headed the International Law Program. While living in New York City, he also worked for the New York University School of Law as an adjunct professor of International Law. Four years later, ElBaradei was hired as a senior staff member of the International Atomic Energy Association Secretariat and then made his primary home in Vienna, Austria, where its headquarters were located.

The IAEA had been founded in 1957 as nuclear capabilities were being developed by countries around the world and their deadly potential being realized. The organization was charged not only with a regulation function, but also encouraged the use of nuclear technology to solve problems in the world like hunger, disease, and environmental issues. By the 1990s and early 2000s, the IAEA's inspections to ensure that countries only used nuclear technology for peaceful means, not weapons, became controversial. While the organization could alert the UN and world at large that countries were in breach of international agreements and limitations, the IAEA and its director general could not control or sanction countries in violation.

ElBaradei continued to work for this arm of the UN for a number of years, holding powerful policy positions. They included acting as legal advisor and later Assistant General for External Relations. In 1997, ElBaradei was elected to his first term as director general of IAEA. He replaced the controversial Hans Blix, but was not Blix's first choice as his successor. ElBaradei was not even the primary choice among Egyptians, let alone most other countries. He was given the post primarily as a compromise candidate everyone could agree on, in part because he could work behind the scenes to build a consensus to solve problems. It was also seen as a good public relations move to have an Arab in charge of such an agency as a number of the world's nuclear hot spots were Arab countries. Like all of the director generals before him, he was only as powerful as the member nations of the UN let him and IAEA be.

ElBaradei proved to be a generally effective director general in his attempts to limit the number of nations with nuclear weapons and keep those nations who already have nuclear weapons to their promise to reduce the number of weapons in their possession. Yet he faced a number of problems as well. For example, in 2002 and 2003, the United States government insisted that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms, or, at the very least, the technology to build them. The work of ElBaradei and Blix, then employed as a chief inspector for the IAEA, proved in 2003 that Iraq did not have this technology. The IAEA did admit that Iraq had the same nuclear ambitions as many other Arab countries. ElBaradei argued against the war in Iraq at the UN. He wanted his inspectors to finish their final reports before the United States invaded, but his wishes were ignored. It was later shown that Iraq did not have any such nuclear weapons.

Another key initiative that ElBaradei worked on was modernizing the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Many countries that had not originally signed the agreement now either had nuclear powers or the technical ability to do so. El-Baradei also promoted an additional protocol. He wanted inspectors to have access to any location with little notice in member states at the UN. By the early 2000s, 69 countries had signed on.

In September of 2005, ElBaradei was re-elected to a third term by the IAEA board of governors. Though he was the only candidate, not all UN members wanted his return, especially the United States. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush did not want ElBaradei in office again for several reasons. In addition to ElBaraei's controversial stance on Iraq, the Americans also believed he did not challenge Iran, with its wide-open nuclear ambitions. Bush went as far as to have the Central Intelligence Agency bug his phone. Referring to the bug, ElBaradei told a reporter from Der Spiegel in an interview published in translation on the IAEA web-site, "I knew I had nothing material to hide. Nevertheless, it was unpleasant not to be able to chat with my children without unwanted eavesdroppers listening in."

Despite such difficulties, ElBaradei remained committed to his vision. He wanted to make the world a better place by strengthening the IAEA safeguards and using them as a standard worldwide. He also wanted more UN-mandated sanctions for countries that do not want safeguards. ElBaradei told Lally Weymouth in an interview published on the IAEA website shortly before he was elected to a third term, "If reelected, I will continue to do things the way I see best. It's very important to me that this multinational institution continue to be impartial and independent. I will not compromise on this.… I have spent almost 30 years of my life doing this, and before I cross to the other side, I want to get the Iran issue out of the way and get to the bottom of the A.Q. Khan [former head of Pakiston's nuclear program] network—he provided the complete kit [for a nuclear weapon] to Libya."

Secure in his position, ElBaradei set these kinds of ambitious goals for his third term. He wanted to rein in the nuclear ambitions of Iran as well as deal with the uncertainties surrounding the North Korean nuclear program. ElBaradei was proud of what he had accomplished in Iran. In 2003, the IAEA was unsure what was happening in Iran with their nuclear capabilities. By early 2005, the IAEA had been in Iran and knew exactly where that country stood. ElBaradei hoped to reach a diplomatic solution shortly, though he understood there were complex issues at hand. Discussing the way to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear country, ElBaradei acknowledged the need for American support, but also told Weymouth in the interview published on the IAEA website, "You need inspections, but you need to also work with them diplomatically. If a country is suspected of going nuclear, you need to understand why. Why does it feel insecure? You need to address [Iran's] sense of isolation and its need for technology and economic [benefits]. They have been under sanctions for 20 years."

ElBaradei also had grave concerns about nuclear arms and terrorists. He wanted to ensure that terrorists could not get their hands on nuclear arms, believing this could put the world as we know it in jeopardy. ElBaradei believed that export controls have not worked and nuclear materials could be bought with relative ease on the black market by both terrorists and rogue nations. Another key goal centered around the question of how to give nuclear energy capabilities to countries eager to produce nuclear power but not let them be able to take the next step to produce nuclear weapons. ElBaradei's idea was to allow countries to build nuclear reactors and related technologies. However, he believed that fuel cycles should be controlled by an international group, like the IAEA, to ensure the removal of spent fuel. By removing this fuel, it cannot be enriched or processed again to make nuclear arms.

ElBaradei's work with the IAEA soon became lauded by the international community. In October of 2005, it was announced that ElBaradei and the IAEA had won the Nobel Peace Prize. The award was unexpected, though they were favorites, and the prize money was split equally between ElBaradei and his employer. The win also marked only the eighth time a native of Africa had won the Nobel Peace Prize. The award had a profound affect on El-Baradei. He was quoted by as saying, "The award basically sends a very strong message, which is: Keep doing what you are doing. It's a responsibility, but it's also a shot in the arm."

As IAEA director, ElBaradei lives in an apartment in Vienna with his wife, Aida Elkachef. (Their two adult children live in London.) He tries to live as normal a life as possible. Yet his job and its importance weighs heavily on him on a daily basis. He told a reporter from Der Spiegel in an interview published in translation on the IAEA web site, "I am afraid that the memory of Hiroshima is beginning to fade. I am afraid that nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of dictators or terrorists. And I am also afraid of the nuclear arsenals of democratic countries, for as long as these weapons exist there can be no security against the catastrophic consequences of theft, sabotage, or accident.… I firmly believe the IAEA can make the difference between war and peace."



Africa News, February 7, 2006.

Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, October 7, 2005; January 30, 2006.

Guardian (London, England), January 27, 2003, p. 4.

Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), October 8, 2005, p. 17.

M2 Presswire, June 14, 2005.


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"Diplomacy and Force: Newsweek Interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, ", http://www. (February 12, 2006).

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