The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors recommended June 13 that Mohamed ElBaradei be granted a third term as the agency’s director-general, virtually guaranteeing his re-election by the full IAEA membership in September. The consensus decision came less than a week after the United States had abandoned its months-long opposition to ElBaradei’s reappointment.
The Egyptian-born diplomat was the only candidate to submit his candidacy to the board. The United States had searched in vain for an alternative, but no candidate was willing to step forward after other board members, including France, Germany, and some developing countries, made clear their support for him. (See ACT, March 2005.) The United States finally dropped its objections after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with ElBaradei June 9.
After the board decision, ElBaradei said he looked forward to tackling several nonproliferation challenges and contended that he and Washington saw eye-to-eye on many issues.
“We might once in a while disagree on tactics,” ElBaradei said. “But on many objectives, we share the same, common view that we need to stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we need to ensure the authority of the agency in terms of verification, we need to have better control over the sensitive nuclear fuel cycle, and we had to have a more efficient compliance mechanism.”
U.S. officials had claimed they wanted ElBaradei replaced on the basis of a nonbinding recommendation adopted by some UN members in Geneva that no director-general of any UN body should be elected to serve for more than two terms. ElBaradei has headed the IAEA since 1997. His immediate predecessors, Swedish diplomats Sigvard Eklund (1961-1981) and Hans Blix (1981-1997), served at least four four-year terms.
But ElBaradei also clashed with U.S. officials over his views on the nuclear dangers posed by Iraq and Iran.
In a May interview with the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, charged former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton with an underhanded campaign to unseat ElBaradei.
“Mr. Bolton overstepped his bounds in his moves and gyrations to try to keep [ElBaradei] from being reappointed as [IAEA] head,” Wilkerson said, adding that Bolton was “going out of his way to bad-mouth him, to make sure that everybody knew that the maximum power of the United States would be brought to bear against them if he were brought back in.” The Washington Post reported in December 2004 that the Bush administration had intercepted dozens of ElBaradei’s phone calls with Iranian diplomats and was scrutinizing them for evidence they could use to force him out.
Some Western officials have been dissatisfied by ElBaradei’s failure to say that Iran’s many violations of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA should lead to a finding of noncompliance by the board. Such a finding would automatically trigger a referral to the UN Security Council, leaving open the possibility of sanctions or even military force.
In a February interview with Arms Control Today, ElBaradei said the criticism was misplaced, noting that he had said that Iran had “cheated” and was in breach of its safeguards obligations.
“The question of what to do, in Iran or in any other case, whether you want to report to the UN Security Council or try to deal with it within the confines of the IAEA—that is clearly a political assessment, which has to be made by member states,” he added. “So, it’s not really something that I dictate, it’s [a matter for] member states based on our reporting, and our reporting laid out all the facts that we know about Iran.”
ElBaradei also ran afoul of U.S. officials over Iraq. Before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, ElBaradei reported that IAEA inspectors’ assessment of Iraq’s nuclear capabilities had not found evidence that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. That conclusion was later borne out by post-war U.S. inspectors.
ElBaradei will also have a new deputy and head of inspections, Olli Heinonen. He served previously as the agency's head of safeguard operations for the Middle East where he was responsible for supervision of nuclear activities of such countries as Iran, Libya, and Egypt. Heinonen will replace Pierre Goldschmidt as Deputy Director-General for Safeguards.