Egypt crisis: US sizing up ex-IAEA chief El-Baradei

Washington, Feb.1 (ANI): The Obama administration is reportedly sizing up the leadership potential of former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed El-Baradei, even as it simultaneously assesses the impact of a shaky Mubarak regime on the Egyptian political landscape.

Of late, El-Baradei, the prominent face of the opposition on the streets of Cairo, has accused the United States of standing by Mubarak even when he has no public support.

El-Baradei told CBS's Face the Nation program that Washington's refusal to openly abandon President Mubarak is "a farce."

Since the protests in Egypt erupted, Obama administration officials have been trying to reach out to El-Baradei, but have not made contact as of Monday afternoon.

"I think that outreach is ongoing," the New York Times quoted White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, as saying.

Diplomatic cables obtained by the whistle blowing web site WikiLeaks show that El-Baradei was enthusiastic about Obama in the early months of his presidency and even celebrated the fact that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

But now, the biggest questions for the Obama administration are El-Baradei's views on issues related to Israel, Egypt and the United States.

For instance, both the United States and Israel have counted on the Egyptians to enforce their part of the blockade of Gaza, which is controlled by the militant Islamist group Hamas.

But in an interview last June with the London-based Al Quds Al-Arabi, El-Baradei called the Gaza blockade "a brand of shame on the forehead of every Arab, every Egyptian and every human being."

He called on his government, and on Israel, to end the blockade, which Israeli and Egyptian officials argue is needed to ensure security.

During an I.A.E.A. board of governors meeting in June 2009, El-Baradei clashed sharply with Israel's representative over a Syrian reactor destroyed in an Israeli air strike in 2007.

An American cable from Vienna said that Israel had ignored advice not to criticize El-Baradei publicly, and he responded in kind, accusing Israel of violating international law.

Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and a friend of El-Baradei, said Monday that the latter wanted Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Israel, along with India and Pakistan, is not a signatory.

One senior official said it was not lost on the Obama administration that El-Baradei's contentious relations with the Bush administration helped explain why some were now viewing him as the credible face of the opposition in Egypt.

"Ironically, the fact that ElBaradei crossed swords with the Bush administration on Iraq and Iran helps him in Egypt, and God forbid we should do anything to make it seem like we like him," said Philip D. Zelikow, former counselor at the State Department during the Bush years.

For all of his tangles with the Bush administration, El-Baradei, an international bureaucrat well known in diplomatic circles, is someone whom the United States can work with, Zelikow said.

However, he said: "Some people in the administration had a jaundiced view of his work." (ANI)

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