- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

NEW YORK — Mohamed ElBaradei is seeking a third term at the helm of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, a move opposed by the Bush administration.

Mr. ElBaradei, the director-general of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), this week circulated a letter to the 35 board members expressing his availability to serve another four-year term.

But U.S. officials have said they don’t believe that senior U.N. officials should serve more than two terms, and have made it clear they do not want to make an exception for the Egyptian nuclear physicist.

A senior Bush administration official said recently that Washington’s chief reservation is the two-term limit, but indicated that officials had problems with some of Mr. ElBaradei’s judgments in recent investigations.

“We’ve made it clear to him that we support a two-term limit on agency heads,” said the official. “We’re trying to be gentlemanly about it.”

The letter, formally informing the board that Mr. ElBaradei is available for another term, is the first step to an election by the IAEA board of governors, which is likely to be held in 2005.

Since 1997, Mr. ElBaradei has led the agency through some of the most politicized and arduous periods in its 55-year history.

In addition to the nuclear standoffs in Iran and North Korea, the IAEA has been investigating the sale of nuclear secrets and materials by Pakistan’s leading nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Mr. ElBaradei also has attempted to clear up questions on Iraq’s nuclear weapons capabilities, including now-discredited intelligence that the United States and Britain cited for going to war against Saddam Hussein.

The Vienna, Austria-based agency has become so high-profile that the IAEA and Mr. ElBaradei are tipped as favorites for the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, which will be announced Oct. 8.

Supporters of Mr. ElBaradei hope that his winning the prize would make it more difficult for the Bush administration to continue opposing his candidacy.

The previous IAEA chief, Hans Blix, left the agency after 16 years to become a chief weapons inspector in Iraq during the 1990s. He later returned to look for banned weapons in months prior to the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Mr. ElBaradei appears to have the endorsement of a bloc of 13 developing nations on the agency’s 35-nation board.

A bloc representing the 10 nations that contribute the most to the United Nations has not taken a stand on a third term for Mr. ElBaradei.

U.S. officials this week declined to say whether they will be nominating anyone to challenge Mr. ElBaradei.

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