'Nuclear pope' ElBaradei steps down

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VIENNA: UN atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who once described himself as a nuclear pope , quoted the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi in his farewell remarks at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy, he told the agency s 35-member board on Friday.

But at the end of his 12 years or three terms as director general of the IAEA, the 67-year-old Egyptian – who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 – is still a long way from attaining such lofty goals.

The agency seems further away than ever from closing the page on its long-running investigation into Iran s controversial nuclear drive.

And on ElBaradei s final working day on Friday – his contract officially runs out on Monday, but the agency is closed for a UN holiday – the standoff between the Islamic Republic and the international community appeared to be becoming ever more deeply entrenched, with the IAEA s board voting overwhelmingly to censure Tehran for the first time in nearly four years.

ElBaradei has frequently come under fire from the West, and the United States in particular, for being too soft on Iran.

But as the end of his term in office drew nearer, he noticeably toughened up his tone.

In particular, his frustration appears to have grown over Tehran s refusal to sign up to a deal he personally brokered that would have given Iran much-needed fuel for a nuclear research reactor while at the same time allaying western fears that the Islamic Republic is trying to develop an atomic bomb.

He expressed disappointment that Tehran had not grasped the outstretched hand and complained that the agency s efforts to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran s nuclear drive had reached a dead end .

At the same time, Washington, which during the administration of George W. Bush was one of ElBaradei s fiercest critics, seems to have become, under Barack Obama, one of his biggest fans.

The Egyptian drew Bush s ire for disputing his rationale for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Washington unsuccessfully tried to block ElBaradei s re-election for a third term as IAEA director general in 2005.

The US frequently criticized ElBaradei for overstepping the IAEA s mandate as a purely technical agency.

But Washington s new envoy to the IAEA, Glyn Davies, now has nothing but praise for him.

He has been the hero of this piece. No one has worked harder and longer and with more imagination and indefatigability than Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, Davies told reporters on Friday and paid a similarly glowing tribute as the agency s board wrapped up its two-day meeting.

The incoming director general, 62-year-old Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano, likewise expressed his deep respect for and gratitude to ElBaradei, describing him as a towering figure in the history of the agency , which he had brought to great new heights.

Diplomats said that ElBaradei displayed little emotion in the board room, but had been visibly moved as he bid farewell to staff at a reception earlier in the day.

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