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If you like Mohamed ElBaradei's's story, you might also like:
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Related Links:
International Atomic Energy Agency

ElBaradei Addresses UN on Iraq

Nobel Prize

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Mohamed ElBaradei
Mohamed ElBaradei
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Mohamed ElBaradei Interview (page: 2 / 7)

Nobel Prize for Peace

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  Mohamed ElBaradei

So there you were in New York, and there was the United Nations building. At what point did you feel attracted to that building and think of yourself working there?

Mohamed ElBaradei: I sort of found my niche there.

I found that I am dealing with people from over 160-70 nations at that time. I've been exposed to every culture, to every language, to every cuisine, and I felt very much at home. I had a lot of fun, and I realized how much we have in common. That was a key, how much we have in common, how much our values are shared values, how much our differences are really superficial at many levels. We talked about borders, nationality, ethnicity, but you look at -- fundamentally, our core values are absolutely shared. We have the same hopes, same aspirations, would like to get the best for our children, would like to live a good life, and that is really what I got from living in New York. That's what I got from working at the UN. That's what I got through going to NYU Law School and getting that intellectual discipline, how to channel this vision into a more effective way.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

One advantage you had was being exposed to different languages at an early age. When did you first study English and French and so forth?

Mohamed ElBaradei: We had English at school. In primary school, we studied English, and I think at grammar school, we had some French. I had for a couple of years a French nanny. Again, that was my father's long-term vision. He thought that languages are key to development. So I grew up with three languages, if you like, and of course, they came in handy in the future. My children are even more fortunate. They have four languages.

What's their fourth language?

Mohamed ElBaradei: German. From living in Vienna, of course. They went to high school in Vienna.

Did you pick up German too, along the way?

Mohamed ElBaradei: Unfortunately, I didn't. Right now, I live in a cocoon. I live and speak and think in English right now. I rely on my wife and my children when I need German, but I have enough German to get by, at least in Vienna.

Could you tell us about your first missions at the UN?

Mohamed ElBaradei: My first mission -- I was a young diplomat there -- and I was looking into the UN budget, the UN management. I was assigned also to look at the legal aspect of working, treaty-making. I was also looking into or giving a glimpse into the effort to control nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. It was a variety of experience. I was an apprentice at that time, and that is usually very helpful because you don't have the responsibility. You can just sit in the corner and look at what other people are doing, and learning by watching people doing, going around their job.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

But later on, of course, then I progressed. After New York, I went to Egypt, and I worked as a special assistant to the Foreign Minister, who picked me up after I completed my doctorate in law. I was a young, ambitious diplomat at that time, who would like to see things done differently, and this was very crucial.

When you returned to Egypt, do you think you were changed by your experience in New York?

Mohamed ElBaradei Interview Photo
Mohamed ElBaradei: Going back, I should say, during NYU, I think this was a fantastic time of my life. I had three years living in Greenwich Village in New York, exposed to the culture at that time, seeing the different perspectives on life, seeing people rejecting the Vietnam War, supporting George McGovern at that time. McGovern only got Massachusetts, and I guess Greenwich Village, but it showed how liberal an environment I was living in. One of my mentors, Tom Frank, a professor of law at NYU, he was really instrumental in making me understand that we need to look at the global picture, and we always need to not take anything for granted, but go very much through a process of critical thinking before we formulate our views. So he was, I think, instrumental in shaping my views as to how to pursue my career in the future.

Then I went back. I mentioned working with the Foreign Minister in 1974 in Egypt, and this was a crucial time. This was a time after the '73 war between Israel and Egypt, and the effort to start a peace process.

It was fantastic for me as a young diplomat to sit in meetings with Henry Kissinger, going through his shuttle diplomacy, going to a meeting in the Oval Office with President Carter, going to see a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Russia -- Gromyko. I was all over the place, seeing people at the very high level of diplomacy, watching carefully, seeing how people negotiate, how people interact, how people cut a deal, and I would say these three, four years in working as a special assistant, as a confidante to the Foreign Minister of Egypt -- Mr. (Ismail) Fahmi at that time -- was crucial in getting the practical experience, how nations and people interact, and you realize at the end of the day how important the psychology is.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

It is not as much about substance as about how to connect with people, how to bring your views across, how to understand where people are coming from, and at the end of the day, how you cut a deal, how you make a compromise.

I think that is the most important lesson you learn in life, that you have to be ready to make a compromise. You do not compromise your principles, but you have to be ready to compromise. You have to understand that you cannot get your way 100 percent. Life is too complicated. You are not an island, and you work in a social setting, and you need to understand that you work always -- at the family level, at the society level -- to work out the compromise that is perceived to be fair. You don't get 100 percent of what you want, but at least you will get the basic minimum that you require.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

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This page last revised on Sep 19, 2010 13:52 EDT
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