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Originally published in Il Venerdì of La Repubblica, 14 December 2007

An irresponsible person. A nothing who became a manager. A threat to world peace. These are some of the first drops of poison lavished over the past weeks on Mohamed ElBaradei, Head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who has been struggling for the past four years for a diplomatic solution to the grave international crisis set off by the Iranian nuclear program. Baradei has won. And the American hawks, for the moment, have been defeated. There will be no long-feared attack against Iran, which might have sunk us into a new atrocious war. Or, at least, there won't be anytime soon. In a recent report making its way around the world, in fact, American Intelligence has concluded that Teheran's nuclear program is not an immediate threat: yes, Iran has an important program, but since 2004 it has suspended all military activity that might have brought to the atomic bomb and provided that Iran wants to build an atomic bomb, they will not be able to do so until 2010-2015. So, Baradei was right: there's all the time in the world for diplomacy. And he is the main character in this explosive crisis: Baradei, his stubborn will, his ghosts and his Ego. The Americans have always hated him. Israel asked for his head just a few days ago. But he won't give in. He addresses the international community, successfully playing the international media network card, he dubs those who ask for a military intervention as "the new crazies" and finally puts the ayatollah into the unpleasant position of cooperating with the very same U.N. agency they hate so much. But who is ElBaradei? The Italian magazine "Il Venerdì" has been searching for answers in those diplomatic circles that know him best, and sources have agreed to paint a picture of him under the condition of anonymity.

“Baradei is very intelligent,” says an international analyst who collaborated with him, “he is nice, very rigorous and honest. He is doing a good job with Iran, but the Americans are making him pay. In North Korea, for example, it's the Americans who are dismantling the nuclear program, not the IAEA inspectors who are being forced to simply watch. They're doing it because they want to humiliate the agency." Bush and his men never, ever wanted him as Director General for his third consecutive terms with the Agency. They had sworn they would have had their revenge after 2003, when the IAEA hadn't backed them against the weapons of mass destruction blunder to justify the war against Iraq. The orders were to get rid of ElBaradei. "Instead, though," the source tells us, "they were so inept that they weren't even able to find an alternative." If the Agency isn't beloved in Washington, it's easy to imagine that Teheran isn't their biggest fan either, as the role of the inspectors is to control, denounce and, when necessary – as with the case of Iran – to open the doors to UN sanctions. And so, for the Iranians, the IAEA is a ‘den of spies’, for the Koreans is better to negotiate directly with the Americans, instead of with the inspectors, and even for the Iraqis, the Agency was a real ‘bete noir’. The author of this article had the opportunity to meet the enigmatic Jafar Dhia Jafar, the head of Saddam's nuclear program who had made a daring escape from Baghdad in April 2003, the day right before the Americans arrived in the city. We met Jafar for the first time in November 2005: Baradei and the IAEA had just won the Nobel Peace Prize, a prize that those against the Iraq war deemed "a kick in Bush's shins," as it meant the Agency hadn't given in to the American war hawks. Jafar, though, didn't see it that way. "I'm very surprised that the Nobel Peace Prize went to the IAEA," he told us before getting into a taxi to who knows where. "So many innocent people have died in Iraq; their hands are filthy with blood." Baradei won the Nobel Peace Prize, making it evident that whoever assigned it to him had a very different opinion on the IAEA's work than that of Jafar. One thing is certain, though: Baradei is managing the Iran situation in a very different way than he did with Iraq. His diplomatic activism through this Iranian crisis is without precedent. "He has removed himself from his technical role," says one source who knows him well, explaining that, with Iraq, Baradei has remained true to his beliefs, but has limited himself to his technical role: nothing more, nothing less. With Iran, on the other hand, "he's doing whatever he can to find a diplomatic solution." Why? Are the ghosts of Iraq haunting him? "Obviously," our sources say. "I wake every morning and I see 100 Iraqis innocent civilians, are dying," Baradei told the BBC. Was there something ElBaradei could have done for Iraq but didn't?

The only certain thing is that, whatever he does, poison runs like a river. If he limits himself to a technical role? His hands are bloodied. If he crosses over into the role of diplomat to avoid a new war? He is Israel's enemy, Ahmadinejad's best friend, ergo he is a danger to world peace. Even the Nobel prize didn't attract sympathy. Surely it gave him a new consciousness: "I have responsibility that could make a difference between war and peace," he recently stated to the International Herald Tribune in a candid interview, during which he spoke about the desperation of millions of poor people who see the beheaders and the atomic bomb as a panacea for all their troubles. But with the visibility and prestige of the Prize comes the usual envy. "By now," they say, " Baradei meets with the most powerful leaders in the world, he is interviewed by the largest information networks: everything has changed deeply from when the IAEA was one the many U.N. agencies, unknown to most of the world. Today, ElBaradei is much more visible than the Secretary General of the U.N. and this brings grumbling even within the IAEA, where he doesn't care for small problems anymore." "But is his position on Iran at least shared within the IAEA?", we ask. "Yes. None of the technicians currently at work in this field believe that war is the solution to the Iran crisis." However, worries about the Teheran program exist and how. And Baradei has never denied that. Now that the Iranians have acquired the full capacity for centrifuge construction, they could hide an enrichment plant in a single industrial facility: they would simply have to place it in an area with an electrical power supply that is powerful enough. "Discovering such an enrichment plant isn't a joke" the analyst says. Will ElBaradei be able to resolve the Iranian crisis once and for all? Or has the blood bath only been postponed? He is at the end of his run: his third term expires in 2009. And there won't be a fourth. And it's unlikely that there will be another ElBaradei.