Nuclear Watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei

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Michael Probst / AP

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed el-Baradei

If you're feeling burdened by the stresses of your job — or puffed up by your most recent PowerPoint — a peek at the top line of Mohamed ElBaradei's résumé might help restore your equilibrium. As director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the 66-year-old Egyptian is the world's point man for staving off nuclear annihilation. On top of divining the atomic ambitions of shadowy dictators, ElBaradei is a linchpin in the high-stakes diplomatic dance between the U.S., Europe and wayward states like Iran and North Korea — an unenviable position that often leaves him open to abuse from all sides.

ElBaradei replaced Hans Blix atop the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency in 1997, and has announced plans to pass the torch when his third term expires in November 2009. It's been a tumultuous tenure. He has clashed with the Bush Administration and weathered protests stemming from his negotiations with Tehran, and he has been chided for wavering when forced to confront intractable leaders. But it's been a decorated run as well: in 2005, ElBaradei and the IAEA were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Vienna-based agency kicks off its 52nd General Conference on Sept. 29.

Fast Facts:

• ElBaradei was born in Cairo in 1942 into an upper-middle-class family; his father, an attorney, once served as president of the Egyptian Bar Association

• At 19, he was a national champion in squash

• The University of Cairo (bachelor's in law) and New York University (doctorate in international law) grad has been a lawyer, teacher and diplomat, serving at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as a fellow at the U.N.'s Institute for Training and Research and a professor at New York University School of Law, among other prestigious posts

• His wife Aida is an early-childhood teacher. They have two adult children — daughter Laila, a lawyer, lives in London; son Mostafa, an IT manager, resides in Cairo

• He's an avid New York Knicks fan (one of the few organizations, it seems, plagued with as many problems as the U.N.)

• He challenged the case for war in Iraq before the 2003 invasion, disputing the Bush Administration's claims that Saddam Hussein had dusted off Iraq's nuclear program and sought to purchase uranium from Niger

• After 11 years at the helm, his job isn't getting any easier. Last week, he acknowledged that Iran is taking strides toward honing the technology that would enable it to build nukes; he also said the IAEA had obliged North Korea's request that the agency remove its seals and cameras from the nation's primary atomic facility as part of North Korea's reversal on a nuclear disarmament deal

Quotes about ElBaradei:

• The New York Times, citing statements made by his aides, called the diplomat "so averse to small talk that he refuses even superficial conversation with staff members in the agency's elevators ... rather than venture into the dining room or cafeteria, he brings lunch from home and eats at his desk."

• "He remains a shy man, but one who is somehow dazzled by his own destiny." (A European nonproliferation official, who scoffed at ElBaradei's penchant for name-dropping)

• "ElBaradei is exactly the kind of person you would want in the role — someone from a developing country who has a Western intellect but a Third World sensitivity." (former U.S. IAEA ambassador John Ritch)

Quotes by ElBaradei:

• On the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003: "The saddest day of my life."

• On the importance of negotiating with rogue states: "You will never solve your problem until you sit around the dinner table and put your grievances on the table and find out how to move forward ... Some people equate that with being soft — that if you do not pound the table and if you do not scream, then you are being soft. I think this is a total misconception."

• On his critics: "Living-room coaches who shoot from the hip."