Mohamed ElBaradei Biography

Director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency

Born June 17, 1942, in Cairo, Egypt; son of Mostafa ElBaradei (an attorney); married Aida Elkachef (a preschool teacher); children: Laila, Mostafa. Education: University of Cairo, bachelor's degree, 1962; New York University School of Law, doctorate, 1974.

Addresses: Office —International Atomic Energy Agency, PO Box 100, Wagramer Strasse 5, A-1400 Vienna, Austria.


Worked with Egyptian Diplomatic Service, 1964-80; for the service, twice served as part of the Permanent Missions of Egypt to the United Nations; served as a special assistant to Egypt's Foreign Minister, 1974-78; senior fellow in charge of International Law Program, United Nations Institute for Training and Research, New York, NY, 1980-87; adjunct professor of international law, New York University, New York, NY, 1981-87; hired as a senior staff member of the International Atomic Energy Agency Secretariat, 1984; became the agency's legal advisor and later assistant director general for external relations; appointed director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 1997; appointed to third term as agency head, 2005.

Member: International Law Association, American Society of International Law.

Awards: Nobel Peace Prize (with the International Atomic Energy Agency), 2005; High Nile Sash, Egyptian government, 2006.


After beginning his career serving the Egyptian government as a diplomat and aide, Mohamed ElBaradei eventually became the head of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This group is the world's watchdog on all thing nuclear, and a continual source of controversy among nations already possessing nuclear capacities as well as countries who want to join their ranks. Though a somewhat contentious public figure because of his job, ElBaradei was elected to his third term as the head of IAEA in 2005. He and the agency were also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that year for their work.

Born in 1942, in Cairo, Egypt, ElBaradei was one of four children born to an attorney, Mostafa ElBaradei. His father was once the president of the Egyptian Bar Association. He was also a supporter of democratic rights in Egypt, supporting a free press and a legal system that was independent. ElBaradei followed in his father's footsteps, graduating from the University of Cairo with a bachelor's degree in law in 1962.

Two years later after earning his degree, ElBaradei began working with the Egyptian Diplomatic Service. For the next sixteen years, he was employed in the service and lived abroad. ElBaradei was twice a part of the Permanent Missions representing Egypt in the United Nations (UN), stationed in both New York City and Geneva, Switzerland. He primarily dealt with issues related to arms control, as well as political and legal questions. As a member of the diplomatic service, ElBaradei was a part of the Egyptian-Israeli peace talks at Camp David in the United States in the late 1970s.

While living in New York, ElBaradei continued his education. In 1974, he earned his doctorate in international law from New York University. That year, ElBaradei began working for the Foreign Minister of Egypt as a special assistant. ElBaradei held that post for four years, before returning to the Egyptian Diplomatic Service.

In 1980, ElBaradei began a new phase of his professional life when he was hired by the UN in New York. He worked for the United Nations Institute for Training and Research as a senior fellow and headed the International Law Program. While living in New York City, he also worked for the New York University School of Law as an adjunct professor of International Law. Four years later, ElBaradei was hired as a senior staff member of the International Atomic Energy Association Secretariat and then made his primary home in Vienna, Austria, where its headquarters were located.

The IAEA had been founded in 1957 as nuclear capabilities were being developed by countries around the world and their deadly potential being realized. The organization was charged not only with a regulation function, but also encouraged the use of nuclear technology to solve problems in the world like hunger, disease, and environmental issues. By the 1990s and early 2000s, the IAEA's inspections to ensure that countries only used nuclear technology for peaceful means, not weapons, became controversial. While the organization could alert the UN and world at large that countries were in breach of international agreements and limitations, the IAEA and its director general could not control or sanction countries in violation.

ElBaradei continued to work for this arm of the UN for a number of years, holding powerful policy positions. They included acting as legal advisor and later Assistant General for External Relations. In 1997, ElBaradei was elected to his first term as director general of IAEA. He replaced the controversial Hans Blix, but was not Blix's first choice as his successor. ElBaradei was not even the primary choice among Egyptians, let alone most other countries. He was given the post primarily as a compromise candidate everyone could agree on, in part because he could work behind the scenes to build a consensus to solve problems. It was also seen as a good public relations move to have an Arab in charge of such an agency as a number of the world's nuclear hot spots were Arab countries. Like all of the director generals before him, he was only as powerful as the member nations of the UN let him and IAEA be.

ElBaradei proved to be a generally effective director general in his attempts to limit the number of nations with nuclear weapons and keep those nations who already have nuclear weapons to their promise to reduce the number of weapons in their possession. Yet he faced a number of problems as well. For example, in 2002 and 2003, the United States government insisted that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms, or, at the very least, the technology to build them. The work of ElBaradei and Blix, then employed as a chief inspector for the IAEA, proved in 2003 that Iraq did not have this technology. The IAEA did admit that Iraq had the same nuclear ambitions as many other Arab countries. ElBaradei argued against the war in Iraq at the UN. He wanted his inspectors to finish their final reports before the United States invaded, but his wishes were ignored. It was later shown that Iraq did not have any such nuclear weapons.

Another key initiative that ElBaradei worked on was modernizing the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Many countries that had not originally signed the agreement now either had nuclear powers or the technical ability to do so. El-Baradei also promoted an additional protocol. He wanted inspectors to have access to any location with little notice in member states at the UN. By the early 2000s, 69 countries had signed on.

In September of 2005, ElBaradei was re-elected to a third term by the IAEA board of governors. Though he was the only candidate, not all UN members wanted his return, especially the United States. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush did not want ElBaradei in office again for several reasons. In addition to ElBaraei's controversial stance on Iraq, the Americans also believed he did not challenge Iran, with its wide-open nuclear ambitions. Bush went as far as to have the Central Intelligence Agency bug his phone. Referring to the bug, ElBaradei told a reporter from Der Spiegel in an interview published in translation on the IAEA web-site, "I knew I had nothing material to hide. Nevertheless, it was unpleasant not to be able to chat with my children without unwanted eavesdroppers listening in."

Despite such difficulties, ElBaradei remained committed to his vision. He wanted to make the world a better place by strengthening the IAEA safeguards and using them as a standard worldwide. He also wanted more UN-mandated sanctions for countries that do not want safeguards. ElBaradei told Lally Weymouth in an interview published on the IAEA website shortly before he was elected to a third term, "If reelected, I will continue to do things the way I see best. It's very important to me that this multinational institution continue to be impartial and independent. I will not compromise on this.… I have spent almost 30 years of my life doing this, and before I cross to the other side, I want to get the Iran issue out of the way and get to the bottom of the A.Q. Khan [former head of Pakiston's nuclear program] network—he provided the complete kit [for a nuclear weapon] to Libya."

Secure in his position, ElBaradei set these kinds of ambitious goals for his third term. He wanted to rein in the nuclear ambitions of Iran as well as deal with the uncertainties surrounding the North Korean nuclear program. ElBaradei was proud of what he had accomplished in Iran. In 2003, the IAEA was unsure what was happening in Iran with their nuclear capabilities. By early 2005, the IAEA had been in Iran and knew exactly where that country stood. ElBaradei hoped to reach a diplomatic solution shortly, though he understood there were complex issues at hand. Discussing the way to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear country, ElBaradei acknowledged the need for American support, but also told Weymouth in the interview published on the IAEA website, "You need inspections, but you need to also work with them diplomatically. If a country is suspected of going nuclear, you need to understand why. Why does it feel insecure? You need to address [Iran's] sense of isolation and its need for technology and economic [benefits]. They have been under sanctions for 20 years."

ElBaradei also had grave concerns about nuclear arms and terrorists. He wanted to ensure that terrorists could not get their hands on nuclear arms, believing this could put the world as we know it in jeopardy. ElBaradei believed that export controls have not worked and nuclear materials could be bought with relative ease on the black market by both terrorists and rogue nations. Another key goal centered around the question of how to give nuclear energy capabilities to countries eager to produce nuclear power but not let them be able to take the next step to produce nuclear weapons. ElBaradei's idea was to allow countries to build nuclear reactors and related technologies. However, he believed that fuel cycles should be controlled by an international group, like the IAEA, to ensure the removal of spent fuel. By removing this fuel, it cannot be enriched or processed again to make nuclear arms.

ElBaradei's work with the IAEA soon became lauded by the international community. In October of 2005, it was announced that ElBaradei and the IAEA had won the Nobel Peace Prize. The award was unexpected, though they were favorites, and the prize money was split equally between ElBaradei and his employer. The win also marked only the eighth time a native of Africa had won the Nobel Peace Prize. The award had a profound affect on El-Baradei. He was quoted by as saying, "The award basically sends a very strong message, which is: Keep doing what you are doing. It's a responsibility, but it's also a shot in the arm."

As IAEA director, ElBaradei lives in an apartment in Vienna with his wife, Aida Elkachef. (Their two adult children live in London.) He tries to live as normal a life as possible. Yet his job and its importance weighs heavily on him on a daily basis. He told a reporter from Der Spiegel in an interview published in translation on the IAEA web site, "I am afraid that the memory of Hiroshima is beginning to fade. I am afraid that nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of dictators or terrorists. And I am also afraid of the nuclear arsenals of democratic countries, for as long as these weapons exist there can be no security against the catastrophic consequences of theft, sabotage, or accident.… I firmly believe the IAEA can make the difference between war and peace."



Africa News , February 7, 2006.

Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, October 7, 2005; January 30, 2006.

Guardian (London, England), January 27, 2003, p. 4.

Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), October 8, 2005, p. 17.

M2 Presswire, June 14, 2005.


"DG's Biography, ", http://www.iaea. org/About/DGC/dgbio.html (February 12, 2006).

"Diplomacy and Force: Newsweek Interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, ", http://www. (February 12, 2006).

"Director General Interview, World Economic Forum, ", Center/Transcripts/2005/wp300105.html (February 12, 2006).

"Director General's interview on winning the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, ", http://www.iaea. org/NewsCenter/Transcripts/2005/nobel07102005.html (February 12, 2006).

"IAEA, ElBaradei win peace prize, ", (October 7, 2005).

"Statements of the Director General, ", (February 12, 2006).

"Superman and Sisyphus: Der Spiegel Interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, ", (February 12, 2006).

A. Petruso

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