The Nobel committee’s decision lent support to negotiations and inspections — rather than military action — as the best means of combating volatile nations. Some observers also said the award sends a message to the Bush administration following its decision to invade Iraq after claiming that U.N. weapons inspections were inadequate.
The Bush administration opposed ElBaradei’s reappointment to another term as director of the IAEA.
But ElBaradei told Associated Press Television News that he did not consider the award a “critique” of the United States.
“We had disagreement before the Iraq war — honest disagreement. We could have been wrong, they could have been right,” he said.
In a briefly worded statement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the award a “well-deserved honor”, adding “The United States is committed to working with the IAEA to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology.”
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, who had been sharply critical of ElBaradei when he worked as the top American nuclear proliferation official, told the AP that he concurred with Secretary Rice’s statement that ElBaradei deserved the honor.
The Nobel committee — which several times has awarded its prize to anti-nuclear weapons campaigners — praised ElBaradei and the IAEA 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.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he hoped the award would help the world gain a greater appreciation of the IAEA’s work.
ElBaradei, an Egyptian, was reappointed to a third term last month. He has contended with U.S. opposition throughout his tenure, much of it stemming from Washington’s perception that he was too soft on Iran for not declaring it in violation of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. That stance blocked possible U.N. sanctions on Iran.
He also refused to endorse Washington’s claims that Iran was working to make nuclear weapons and that Saddam Hussein was working toward an atomic weapons program in Iraq. Both claims remain unproven, despite growing suspicions about Iran’s nuclear program.