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IAEA, ElBaradei win peace prize

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OSLO, Norway (CNN) -- The U.N. nuclear watchdog and its head, Mohamed ElBaradei, won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their efforts to limit the spread of atomic weapons.

ElBaradei told CNN he was "overwhelmed." He said it was "a shot in the arm" for his agency and would strengthen its resolve in dealing with major issues like North Korea and Iran.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee picked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and ElBaradei, an Egyptian, from a record field of 199 candidates.

It praised ElBaradei as an "unafraid advocate" of measures to strengthen non-proliferation efforts. (Full citation)

The prize is to be split equally between the agency and ElBaradei. He promised the money would be spent on "good causes."

He told a news conference in Vienna, Austria, that the prize "sends a strong message" about the agency's disarmament efforts and will strengthen his resolve to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

"The award basically sends a very strong message, which is: Keep doing what you are doing," ElBaradei said. "It's a responsibility but it's also a shot in the arm."

ElBaradei told CNN: "I feel a lot of responsibility on my shoulder -- the prize meaning stay the course and do more of the same.

"We have a lot of difficult issues ahead of us. So it strengthens my resolve but I am very conscious of the heavy responsibility I and my team have to shoulder."

El Baradei and the IAEA were among the favorites for this year's award, which comes 60 years after the U.S. atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

The 1995 and 1985 prizes went to ban-the-bomb campaigners, and many experts expected the Nobel committee to also commemorate the 1945 bombing this year.

ElBaradei, a 63-year-old attorney, has been at the helm of the IAEA as it dealt with suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. (ElBaradei profile)

On Iran, ElBaradei said the message to Tehran was that the international community had full confidence in the IAEA in its nuclear inspections.

"The ball is now back in Iran's court," he said.

"I would like close that file as early as I can. But it very much depends on Iran's transparency and cooperation."

ElBaradei first assumed the post in 1997 and recently was reappointed to a third term.

"On behalf of IAEA staff, we're all stunned," the organization's spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, told CNN. "We're all very emotional. We're just feeling very, very proud of our director-general."

ElBaradei's wife, Aida, told CNN, "He worked very, very hard and is still doing so. It's always one of the dreams, but I guess sometimes dreams come true."

She said she hoped the prize would draw more attention to the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, something she described as her husband's passion, although the work can be difficult and stressful.

Her comments were echoed by Fleming.

"We're just thrilled that this is going to strengthen our cause. We're very convinced that we're going to have a stronger hand in our fight for nuclear non-proliferation and strengthening nuclear security ... I think everyone now in the world will know what a central role IAEA plays in making the world a more secure place in the nuclear realm."

The issue of nuclear power has been in the spotlight this year, both because the IAEA played key roles in negotiations with Iran and North Korea and the 60th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"In the nuclear non-proliferation regime, it is the IAEA which controls that nuclear energy is not misused for military purposes, and the director general has stood out as an unafraid advocate of new measures to strengthen that regime," Ole Danbolt Mjos, chairman of the Nobel committee, said in making the announcement.

"At a time when disarmament efforts appear deadlocked, when there is a danger that nuclear arms will spread both to states and to terrorist groups, and when nuclear power again appears to be playing an increasingly significant role, IAEA's work is of incalculable importance."

He noted that in his will, Alfred Nobel wrote that the Peace Prize should be awarded to whoever had done the most to further "abolition or reduction of standing armies," among other criteria.

A dissenting note came from the environmental group Greenpeace, which said it was "shocked" at the award, arguing that the U.N. agency's promotion of atomic energy has increased the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.

"With the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to such an organization, the meaning of this instrument of peace is seriously put into question," Jan van de Putte, an atomic expert with Greenpeace, said in a statement.

ElBaradei received a bachelor's degree in law from the University of Cairo, and a doctorate in international law from the New York University School of Law, according to his biography on the IAEA's Web site. He also has received various honorary degrees.

Last year, the Nobel committee awarded the prize to Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Muta Maathai, "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace."

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