The International Atomic Energy Agency was born in 1956. Its inspiration was Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech, delivered to the United Nations three years before. The president said he wanted to tip nuclear technology — an expression of “the miraculous inventiveness of man” — toward peaceful uses.
For decades, the IAEA was a technical agency, and neutral. Its job was to advise U.N. member-states on matters nuclear. But then came a director-general named Hans Blix, and, even more, a director-general named Mohamed ElBaradei. The latter turned the IAEA into a political body, and was unapologetic about doing so. “You can’t separate security from politics,” said ElBaradei. “We cannot be unaware of the political context in which we operate and the political ramifications of our work.”
He worked to shield Iran from adverse action. He openly lamented that, if he reported certain facts to the Security Council, those facts would trigger sanctions — which he personally opposed. So, did ElBaradei report all the facts he knew? Many doubted it, with justification. His own aides said he sat on damning reports.
In 2007, ElBaradei told the BBC, “I wake every morning and see 100 Iraqis, innocent civilians, are dying. I have no brief other than to make sure we don’t go into another war or that we go crazy into killing each other. You do not want to give additional argument to new crazies who say, ‘Let’s go and bomb Iran.’”
Two years later, he said this about the Iranian nuclear program: “In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped.” Two months after that, the world learned that Iran had a secret uranium-enrichment plant near Qom. ElBaradei pronounced it “nothing to be worried about.” Oddly, some did.
I could go on, and do, in my history of the Nobel Peace Prize. For their pains, the IAEA and ElBaradei were awarded that prize — maybe the most ill-considered prize in Nobel history. I think it will look particularly ignominious if Iran goes nuclear. ElBaradei did everything he could to downplay and pooh-pooh what the Iranians were doing.
Why do I dredge up all this now? Under a different director-general, Yukiya Amano, the IAEA has returned to its original role of information-provider — of honest broker, so to speak. The IAEA has been perfectly frank about the Iranian situation. You can see it all over the press in recent days.
Take this editorial of the Wall Street Journal — which notes an IAEA report saying that Iran’s nuclear drive has not been slowed at all by U.S. or international sanctions. On the contrary, that drive has been sped up.
The IAEA took a hiatus for several years, a break away from its job. Worse than that, it obfuscated a matter of critical importance to the entire world — a nuclear Iran. The hour is late, but not too late. It’s good and right to have the IAEA back on the job.