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2005-10-07

UN Nuclear Watchdog ELBaradei Wins Nobel Peace Prize Months After U.S. Tries To Force Him From Job as Head of IAEA

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The International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief Mohamed ElBaradei have won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. We speak with Phyllis Bennis of the Institute of Policy Studies. [includes rush transcript]

The announcement was made earlier today in Oslo Norway. The Egyptian-born ElBaradei has served as Director General of the IAEA since 1997. He won the prize just months after the United States tried to force him from his job after the Bush administration repeatedly clashed with him over Iraq and Iran.

In February 2003 — a month before the U.S. invasion — ElBaradei told the United Nations that nuclear experts had found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said "We have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq." John Bolton — who is now the US ambassador to the United Nations — responded by saying this is "impossible to believe." Vice President Dick Cheney said "I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong." But it turned out ElBaradei was correct. He was also correct when he publicly cast doubt on President Bush’s claim that Iraq was purchasing tons of enriched uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program. Days before the U.S. invasion, ElBaradei revealed that the U.S. had relied on fabricated documents to come to that conclusion.

Now the U.S. and ElBaradei are at odds again. This time it is over Iran. ElBaradei says the IAEA has no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. But the Bush administration rejects this view and went so far as to spy on him in an attempt try to block his re-election. Last year the Washington Post revealed that the U.S. listened in on dozens of phone calls between ElBaradei and Iranian diplomats in search of ammunition to use against him. When his re-election was initially put for a vote, 34 nations agreed to keep him as head of the IAEA and only the U.S. expressed opposition. ElBaradei has also called on Israel to disarm its secret nuclear weapons program and called for a nuclear-free Middle East. Last year in an interview with the New York Times he warned ""If the world does not change course, we risk self-destruction."

  • Phyllis Bennis, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, specializing in Middle East and United Nations issues. She is the author of the book "Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, who have won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. The announcement was made earlier today in Oslo, Norway.

NOBEL COMMITTEE SPOKESPERSON: The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2005 is to be shared in two equal parts between the International Atomic Energy Agency, I.A.E.A., and its Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, for 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. 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 I.A.E.A., and its Director General.

In the nuclear non-proliferation regime, it’s the I.A.E.A. 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, I.A.E.A.’s work is of incalculable importance.

In his will, Alfred Nobel wrote that the peace prize should, among other criteria, be awarded to whoever had done most for the abolition or reduction of standing armies. In its application of this criterion in recent decades, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has concentrated on the struggle to diminish the significance of nuclear arms in international politics with a view to their abolition. That the world has achieved little in this respect makes active opposition to nuclear arms all the more important today.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Egyptian-born ElBaradei had served as Director General of the I.A.E.A. since 1997. He won the prize just months after the United States tried to force him from his job, after the Bush administration repeatedly clashed with him over Iraq and Iran. In February 2003, a month before the U.S. invasion, ElBaradei told the United Nations that nuclear experts had found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said, quote, "We have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq." John Bolton, who is now the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, responded by saying, "This is," quote, "impossible to believe." Vice President Dick Cheney said, quote, "I think Mr. ElBaradei, frankly, is wrong." But it turned out ElBaradei was correct.

He was also correct when he publicly cast doubt on President Bush’s claim that Iraq was purchasing tons of enriched uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program. Days before the U.S. invasion, ElBaradei revealed that the U.S. had relied on fabricated documents to come to that conclusion.

Now, the U.S. and ElBaradei are at odds again. This time it is over Iran. ElBaradei says the I.A.E.A. has no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, but the Bush administration rejects this view and went so far as to spy on him in an attempt to try to block his re-election. Last year, the Washington Post revealed that the U.S. listened in on dozens of phone calls between ElBaradei and Iranian diplomats in search of ammunition to use against him. When his re-election was initially put for a vote, thirty-four nations agreed to keep him as head of the I.A.E.A. and only the U.S. expressed opposition.

ElBaradei has also called on Israel to disarm its secret nuclear weapons program and called for a nuclear-free Middle East. Last year, in an interview with the New York Times, he warned, quote, "If the world does not change course, we risk self-destruction." To talk about the selection of Mohamed ElBaradei as the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner, we turn to Phyllis Bennis, who is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, specializes in issues involving the Middle East and the United Nations. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Phyllis.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Thanks, Juan. Great to be with you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Your reaction, the meaning of this selection, as you will, of Mr. ElBaradei and of his organization?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think this is an extraordinary choice by the Nobel Committee. It was not only a slap in the face to U.S. focus on unilateral efforts to deal with nuclear issues and particularly the U.S. efforts to focus solely on what they call proliferation as the main problem, that being the possibility that others might get access to nuclear technology, as opposed to dealing with the issue of disarmament. This decision by the Nobel Committee puts center stage and with a great deal of publicity, as always attends the winner of the peace prize, the importance of focusing on international cooperation.

And it was very interesting, Juan, as you mentioned just now, when the Nobel Committee called Mohamed ElBaradei "unafraid." I think it was very clearly linked to his refusal to give in to the U.S. pressure that has been so endemic against the I.A.E.A. in recent years, particularly, of course, led by John Bolton, who had, as the Undersecretary of State for Disarmament Affairs, an oxymoronic position if ever there was one, a real obsession with Mohamed ElBaradei, particularly after ElBaradei’s role along with the director of the other U.N. arms agency at the time of the immediate run-up to the war in Iraq, when ElBaradei took the lead in saying, 'No, we are not finding any evidence of weapons of mass destruction. No, we are not going to give the U.S. the kind of report they wanted that would have served as a legal justification for war against Iraq.' And he stood his ground. He stood his ground again when he was under attack, again led by Bolton, for the — in the effort to replace him, to prevent him from getting a third term.

As you said, the U.S. didn’t get any support for that effort. Even Tony Blair’s Britain, usually such a loyal follower of the Bush administration, wouldn’t back the U.S. in that one. Although in the last couple of months, ElBaradei has used some language against Iran that has been somewhat harsher than before, despite the fact that there is still no evidence of actual Iranian violations, and I have assumed that that harsher language is his — is the result of the U.S. pressure that has continued to escalate against ElBaradei, but importantly, he has not caved in on the substance. He has not provided any false claims of Iranian violations. And I think that’s been very important, because it’s kept the issue of disarmament central, in calling for Israel to end its known, but unacknowledged nuclear arsenal and calling for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, something that we should note that was part of the U.S. crafted resolution back in 1991 that ended the Gulf War, Article 14 of that massive resolution, also talked about the need to create a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction across the Middle East. But ElBaradei is the first U.N. official to call explicitly for such a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East and call on Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal.

What he has not called for yet, and I would hope that the kind of stature that the Nobel Peace Prize gives, is to call directly on the five nuclear powers, and of course, most importantly, the United States, which is by far — has the largest and most dangerous nuclear arsenal, to call on the five official nuclear powers, those, of course, being the same members as the permanent veto-wielding members of the Security Council — the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia — to give up their nuclear arsenals, as is called for in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which says explicitly that in return for non-nuclear countries agreeing not to seek nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons states agree to move towards full and complete nuclear disarmament. That’s never been taken seriously in U.S. policy circles, certainly not by the U.S. government. But the fact that Mohamed ElBaradei has come very close to that, this may push him to take that additional step.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, also, in terms, you mentioned Iran, clearly now with the increased stature that he will receive as a result of this award — it will be a process of time; he’s got to go and receive the award and obviously speak at that time — what impact do you think this is going to have on the current crisis and conflict between the U.S. and Iran? Because clearly, the Bush administration is zeroing in every day more and more on Iran as the next great danger that the United States must confront.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, I think that there’s two ways, Juan, that that may emerge. One is with ElBaradei himself, who, of course — he is the director of the I.A.E.A. His job is to implement the decisions made by the board of the I.A.E.A., which is made up of governments, thirty-five governments. And it’s in that context that the U.S. has been trying to escalate its attacks on Iran, so far, unsuccessfully. So ElBaradei will be, as I mentioned, I hope, strengthened to continue and even ratchet up his resistance to this effort.

But also the Nobel Committee was very clear that the award is also to the I.A.E.A. itself. And they spoke directly about the importance of international cooperation as the basis of dealing with the problem of nuclear weapons. And that’s a direct statement against the U.S.-style unilateralism that has shaped Washington’s approach in the I.A.E.A. I would hope that in the coming debates over Iran’s nuclear program and the whole question of whether to refer it to the Security Council in the hopes that they would then take the next step of imposing some kind of sanctions on Iran, that the I.A.E.A., as a collective body of governments, governments which individually and collectively are also under extraordinary pressure from the United States to cave in on this anti-Iranian campaign that Washington is running, that the I.A.E.A. itself will gain some strength and some backbone as a result of the action of the Nobel Committee and continue to resist, perhaps even more strongly than they have so far.

There has been some waffling in the I.A.E.A. They passed a resolution a couple of weeks ago that talks about sending the issue of Iran to the U.N. Security Council, without doing it, but taking a step towards that. I think that this Nobel Prize may give them the backbone to stand up to the U.S. pressure to continue that process, and instead, to look at it in the context of demanding enforcement of all aspects of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, certainly from Iran, but only equally with all other countries. So, for example, the fact that at least five other countries that are non-nuclear weapons states are engaged in exactly the same nuclear programs as Iran in an effort to create their own independently controlled nuclear fuel processes, those include South Africa, Brazil, a couple of others, which have been accepted by the rest of the world as perfectly legitimate, because it’s legal under the terms the N.P.T., that Iran should be treated in the same way.

The fact that the United States government doesn’t like the government of Iran doesn’t give them the right to impose their own version of what the N.P.T. requires and doesn’t require, at the same time moving towards implementation of the requirements of the N.P.T. on the nuclear weapons states themselves, meaning the official nuclear weapons countries, as well as India, Pakistan and Israel, the others that have known nuclear weapons capacity. So, I think that this decision by the Nobel Committee may give to the I.A.E.A., as well as to Mohamed ElBaradei personally, the ability to move into a higher visibility kind of work in the world, gain more popular support. We should not forget, Juan, as you mentioned, in the run-up to the war in Iraq, the position of the I.A.E.A. was very much at the core of being part of the global mobilization against that war, that included both demonstrators and social movements around the world and some governments and the I.A.E.A., as well as other parts of the United Nations, which were together standing up to this U.S. effort to go to war in Iraq with the imprimatur of the United Nations and the world.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Phyllis Bennis, we are going to have to leave it there, because we’re running out of time for this segment. But thanks very much, Phyllis Bennis, at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., a specialist in the Middle East and United Nations issues. She’s the author of the book, Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11 Crisis.

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