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Mr. Bolton said, in his experience, Mr. ElBaradei would at times alter reports from his inspectors.

“I think he ran cover for Iran,” Mr. Bolton said. “He would not face up to the realities that everyone else saw, that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. We know he altered reports by IAEA inspectors.”

Michael Adler, an Iran expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, disagreed.

“It’s incorrect to say that ElBaradei suppressed information when he was the director general from the board of governors reports,” he said. “If you look at those reports, they document very meticulously and fully the Iranian nuclear program, to the extent they were able to document it.”

Today, Mr. ElBaradei has emerged as the opposition’s mediator and negotiator with the Egyptian government. Last year, he accepted political support from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and said he would run for the presidency in the 2011 elections if the election laws were amended to allow him to run competitively.

The U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Margaret Scobey, in the past has met with Mr. ElBaradei. Since the major demonstrations began last week in Cairo, the White House has not yet reached out to him, according to a White House official.

Michele Dunne, an Egypt expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Mr. ElBaradei “is putting himself forward as someone who can negotiate between the opposition and the government, but he is not necessarily presenting himself as transitional leader.”

A concern for some observers is that Mr. ElBaradei is seen as too close to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood and may end up being their pawn.

Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said she does not believe the former IAEA director general is a “stooge for Iran.”

“Just because someone tells you what you want to hear does not mean they play well at home,” she said. “Sometimes, when they play well at home, they are not going to tell you what you want to hear. But this does not make them a bad transitional leader.”