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IAEA nations, but not Israel, fete El Baradei in sendoff
Some nations who once criticised Mohamed ElBaradei over his approach to Iran’s disputed nuclear programme joined a roomful of effusive tributes to the outgoing chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency on Thursday.
But Israel, ElBaradei’s most public and caustic critic, left its seat empty to sidestep the succession of delegations hailing the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, participants in the closed-door meeting said.
The IAEA’s multinational board of governors presented ElBaradei, 67, with a silver platter, approved a resolution declaring him “Director-General Emeritus” for after he retires on November 30, and gave him a standing ovation.
He was moved to tears of appreciation.
The tall, slightly stooped IAEA chief said he felt “humbled and grateful” and picked up on his cherished theme of international cooperation to solve conflicts, poverty, disease and other iniquities of the world.
“We are all partners on a human journey and we are on the right track,” he said. “The human family is not a zero-sum game — we will either win or lose together. No problems can be solved alone,” ElBaradei said, gently alluding to past differences with a unilateralist United States under George W. Bush.
He repeatedly praised Bush’s successor as U.S. president, Barack Obama, for his commitment to nuclear disarmament and multilateral consultations to defuse conflict.
ElBaradei also said his successor as director-general, Yukiya Amano, a dry Japanese diplomat without the incumbent’s charisma who was only narrowly elected in July, would lead the IAEA with “competence, courage and vision”.
ElBaradei, a veteran Egyptian diplomat, and the IAEA jointly won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to prevent the stealthy spread of nuclear weapons and foster peaceful and safe uses of atomic energy in the developing world.
The latter half of his 12-year tenure was also buffeted by spats with Israel, the United States and some European powers, especially France, over perceptions he was softpedalling the risks posed by Iran’s shadowy nuclear activity.
They bridled at ElBaradei’s outspoken warnings that only negotiations, not isolating sanctions or last-resort war
(“bonkers”, as he undiplomatically put it), can bring a lasting solution on Iran. Some Western officials, including
former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, accused him of “speaking outside his box” as head of a technical U.N. agency.
The Bush administration’s relations with ElBaradei had curdled in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, when he publicly challenged what later proved to be fabricated intelligence about an Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programme used to justify the U.S.-led invasion.
U.S. officials in the Bush administration circulated transcripts of wiretaps of ElBaradei’s telephone in an ultimately futile attempt to undermine his election by the IAEA’s board of governors to a third term in 2005.
U.S. relations with, and public respect for, the IAEA have improved dramatically since Obama took office in January.
But old tensions resurfaced last month when France and Israel suggested ElBaradei was sitting on IAEA findings pointing more concretely to a covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme than information the agency has released to date.
He angrily denied any such cover-up. The Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities under investigation, he said in remarks to governors on Wednesday, were highly suspicious but investigations so far had unearthed no hard proof of “weaponisation” work.
Twenty-four hours later, all the political tugs-of-war between ElBaradei and Western powers seemed forgotten as 39 national delegations including the United States and big European allies sang his praises in the send-off ceremony.
But not Israel, which accused ElBaradei of glossing over what it considers an undeniable Iranian lunge for nuclear weapons capability under the noses of IAEA inspectors that will pose a mortal threat to the Jewish state in the near future.
Israel’s chief envoy sat quietly at the back of the conference chamber during the tribute rites, then returned to his seat for a bit of routine board business that concluded the meeting.