WASHINGTON – Without a hint of past disapproval, the Bush administration on Friday saluted Egyptian diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei (search) for winning the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.
She offered her congratulations to him and the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, which also was honored for what the Nobel Committee said was a drive to curb the spread of atomic weapons through diplomacy. At the same time Rice reaffirmed that the administration was "committed to working with the IAEA to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology."
Offering congratulations as well, White House spokesman Scott McClellan (search) said the award showed the Nobel committee had recognized the importance of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.
"That's been a high priority for this administration," he said.
Until the administration in June registered its support for a third term for ElBaradei, the opposition to him among such officials as former Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) and John R. Bolton, then undersecretary of state for arms control, was strong and unusually public.
Differences over Iran and also Iraq, where ElBaradei supported extended weapons inspections rather than use of force, were behind U.S. dissatisfaction.
Bolton, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in New York that he joined in Rice's congratulations.
Asked if he saw the prize as a rebuff to the U.S. strategy, Bolton said only: "I'll stick with the secretary's statement."
Last December, the administration called on ElBaradei to step down after his term ended this summer.
But signaling a U.S. diplomatic defeat, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack (search) said in June that if other nations on the IAEA's board voted for a third term for ElBaradei, the United States was prepared to join the consensus.
The announcement followed a half-hour meeting between ElBaradei and Rice.
They agreed on the urgency of halting the spread of nuclear weapons technology and that the agency's focus should be placed on suspicious Iranian actions, McCormack said.
Rice had agreed with Powell that "the two-term rule is an important principle" within the U.N., McCormack said. "It leads to a healthy U.N. system."
But, he said, ElBaradei and agency officials assigned to overseeing Iran "are working in a serious way."
"He understands clearly where we are on the issue" after talking to Rice and other administration officials, the spokesman said.
Rep. Tom Lantos (search), D-Calif., credited the IAEA in a statement Friday with "decades of tireless and often-frustrating work" to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
Lantos, the senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, noted the award came shortly after the agency's board of governors had declared Iran to be in non-compliance with treaty obligations not to engage in nuclear weapons activities.
He credited the IAEA secretariat and inspectors with doggedly pursuing and exposing 18 years of Iranian deceptions and intimidation.