THE award of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, chosen from among 199 nominees, made some very important points.
The first message by the Nobel awards committee was to underline the vital importance of the role of the IAEA in international affairs these days.
Basically, the agency applies itself to the difficult and dangerous problem of countries developing peaceful nuclear capacities, in the field of energy for example, but without those abilities spilling over into the nuclear weapons area.
The IAEA, as the keeper of countries' obligations to respect their commitments as possible signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, carries a heavy responsibility. The agency was very active in Iraq prior to the U.S. attack, and it is active now in trying to see that problems involving Iran and North Korea not degenerate into war.
The second point made by the committee's award of the peace prize to the IAEA's chief, and the agency itself, was the respect that the international community has for Mr. ElBaradei.
At 63, with eight years of experience as IAEA head during difficult times, he is unique as an Arab scientist playing this international role, particularly in the Middle East, which is center stage for much of the world's nuclear drama.
Iran, as a signer of the non-proliferation treaty, is seeking to move to production of peaceful nuclear energy against a backdrop of U.S. suspicions that it has the related intention of developing nuclear weapons.
The three treaty non-signatories with nuclear weapons, India, Israel, and Pakistan, are important powers in the same region. Mr. ElBaradei, as an Egyptian, avoids the stigma of being an outsider preaching and prescribing to the leaders of the region. A regional war that broke out would clearly risk bringing casualties to his home country as well.
The third point, valid even though the Nobel committee maintained that it was not, is that the awarding of the prize to the IAEA and its chief was, to a degree, a rebuff to the United States. The Bush Administration used a stated position of no confidence in the IAEA's ability to police and keep under surveillance Iraq's alleged, and ultimately nonexistent, nuclear weapons program as one argument for starting the Iraq war.
When Mr. ElBaradei refused to yield his position and his organization's reputation for integrity to White House caterwauling, the Bush Administration under the leadership of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mounted an attack on him inside the IAEA, designed to block a renewal of his mandate.
That effort failed, he remained director general, and now he will pursue his organization's work with renewed authority as a winner of the renowned peace prize.
Good for him, good for the IAEA, and good for the world for having its nuclear problems tackled in a way that seeks to avoid war, and to resolve nuclear issues through peaceful means.
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