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07 October 2005

Nobel Peace choice not without controversy, critics

The Cenotaph marks ground zero
of the Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945.

Bernama (Malaysian National News Agency)
Saturday 8 October 2005

UN nuclear watchdogs
win Nobel Peace Prize
60 years after Hiroshima

OSLO (Agence-France Presse) - The UN's nuclear watchdog and its Egyptian director general Mohamed ElBaradei won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, 60 years after the world's first atomic attack.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its chief were honored "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," the Nobel Committee said.

International reactions were divided on the choice, with some saying the IAEA had not done enough to banish the nuclear threat. The distinction comes 60 years after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan on August 6 and 9, 1945, the world's only nuclear attacks to date.

The Nobel jury called for the "broadest international cooperation" to meet the threat of nuclear arms which it said "is again increasing".

The IAEA, founded in 1957, and ElBaradei were among a record 199 candidates, but Nobel Committee president Ole Danbolt Mjoes said "it was not an especially difficult choice this year". "The prize (will) strengthen my resolve and those of my colleagues to speak the truth to power," an emotional ElBaradei told reporters at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

The agency and its director have been instrumental in thorny nuclear negotiations in Iran, threatening to take the country before the UN Security Council for violating nuclear non-proliferation rules.

Shimon Peres, Israel's deputy prime minister who shared the prize in 1994, said Iran was "today the biggest and most dangerous problem". Iranian officials meanwhile expressed fears of intensified pressure.

A "pessimistic hypothesis is that with this prize, Mr ElBaradei will become closer to the political position of the United States and the Europeans, especially on the nuclear issue. And he will put more pressure on Iran," said Kazem Jalali, spokesman of the Iranian parliament's foreign affairs committee.

The IAEA also helped push forward a six-party North Korean nuclear agreement last month, which it described as "a first step toward the goal of the verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula." ElBaradei, 63, is the first Egyptian to win the award since then president Anwar Sadat in 1978.

In the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, the seasoned diplomat pleaded for more time for weapons inspections, making him unpopular with Washington. But Mjoes said the jury's choice was no criticism of the United States, which never found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"This is not a kick in the shin of any nation, any leader," he said. "It is a challenge to all leaders in the world and all the world's nations to go much further on the road towards ridding the world of nuclear weapons."

World leaders hailed the Nobel jury's choice, but activists were not pleased. The head of Nihon Hidankyo, a group of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors, accused the committee of passing over his group so as not to offend the US. "It makes me wonder if the Nobel Peace Prize committee is paying special consideration to a certain country," said Senji Yamaguchi.

Greenpeace International spokesman Mike Townsley said the IAEA was stuck in a "contradictory role, as nuclear policeman and nuclear salesman". A French group, Sortir du Nucleaire (Get Out of Nuclear), also in a reference to the IAEA's role to promote civil nuclear technology, said it should be scrapped because it had given countries the means to build atomic bombs.

George Monbiot, a radical author and commentator with the British daily The Guardian, said the prize "was a reward for failure in an age of rampant proliferation." And Alexei Yablokov, at Moscow's centre for political ecology said he was "shocked", claiming that the IAEA had qualified the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl as "nothing serious".

The Nobel jury has rewarded nuclear non-proliferation twice before on major anniversaries of the nuclear bombings of Japan in World War II. In 1995, the Pugwash group and its founder Joseph Rotblat won, and in 1985, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War received the prize. The agency and its chief will split a cheque worth 1.3 million dollars (1.1 million euros).

© AFP 2005


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