U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Awarded Nobel Peace Prize

The International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, receive the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. Matthew Bunn, acting executive director of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, discusses the U.N. watchdog group and its work.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Mohamed ElBaradei and the body he directs, the International Atomic Energy Agency, shared the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded today. Mr. ElBaradei, who is Egyptian, said it was an absolute surprise, and it will be a spur to further efforts to control nuclear proliferation.

Dr. MOHAMED ELBARADEI (Director-General, International Atomic Energy Agency): The prize will strengthen my resolve and that of my colleagues to continue to speak truth to power, to continue to speak our minds. We have no hidden agenda except to ensure that our world continue to be safe and humane.

SIEGEL: Mohamed ElBaradei was recently named to a third term as director-general of the IAEA. He's often been at odds with Washington; he differed with the US over Iraq's alleged nuclear program. He has not only always handled Iran's nuclear program as Washington would have liked. Speaking in Vienna today, he had this to say about the Peace Prize.

Dr. ELBARADEI: I think the prize recognizes the number-one danger we are facing today, and that's the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons, the continuing existence of thousands of nuclear weapons and the prospect of nuclear terrorism.

SIEGEL: That's Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei.

Matthew Bun works on nuclear proliferation issues at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Matthew Bun, a well-deserved prize?

Mr. MATTHEW BUN (Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University): I think so. The International Atomic Energy Agency and ElBaradei are absolutely at the center of the struggle to stem the spread of nuclear weapons and to prevent nuclear terrorism. And ElBaradei has really pushed the agency into a much more prominent role on a number of key issues in the last several years.

SIEGEL: To the extent that Nobel Peace Prizes send messages, what's the message here?

Mr. BUN: Well, I think the message, as Dr. ElBaradei said, is that this is a crucial problem for international peace and security, the control of nuclear weapons. And whatever the flaws of the IAEA itself, it's the institution that we've got to do the inspections around the world to help us control the spread of nuclear weapons.

SIEGEL: But is it fair to say that the IAEA and Dr. ElBaradei are typically cautious--some might say gratefully so--over Iraq, but also over Iran?

Mr. BUN: That's absolutely correct. The IAEA is a creature of its member states, and it can only have the authority and clout that its member states want to give it. But Dr. ElBaradei, I believe, has done a very professional job, both in the case of Iraq and in the case of Iran. We now know, from the CIA's own investigation, that Iraq had not reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. It had not done so precisely because they were afraid they would get caught by the international inspectors if they did.

In Iran's case, even senior Israeli officials have said to me that they believe that the IAEA has done a very creditable job of peeling back one layer after another of Iranian lies and deceptions.

SIEGEL: On the other hand, one could point to North Korea and A.Q. Khan's work in Pakistan and say, `A Nobel Prize for this?'

Mr. BUN: But the North Korean situation is again, in a sense, an example of how effective the IAEA is. The North Koreans pulled out of the inspections back in the early 1990s precisely because the IAEA managed to catch them making lies about how much plutonium they had separated when the North Koreans thought they had cleaned up their facility enough that the IAEA inspectors wouldn't notice what had happened there. To me, this prize is a sign to the international community that it's time to give the IAEA the money, the people, the intelligence and the authority it needs to get the jobs that we want it to do done.

SIEGEL: Matthew Bun from the Kennedy School of Government, talking about the award of the Nobel Peace Prize today to Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the IAEA, and that agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. BUN: Thank you. It was a pleasure to be here.

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