- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

The Bush administration said yesterday it will support a third term for Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the U.N. nuclear agency, after failing to win international backing for its earlier opposition to his continued tenure.

Administration officials insisted that the two-term limit for heads of U.N. agencies must be respected, but they conceded that there was no alternative candidate to replace Mr. ElBaradei.

?We expect that when the vote comes up in the [International Atomic Energy Agency] board of governors on this issue, we will join the consensus,? State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters after Mr. ElBaradei met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

?Based on the news reports that I see out there today, the vote, if held today, would have Dr. ElBaradei continuing at the IAEA, and we would join such a consensus,? Mr. McCormack said.

The 35-nation board of governors is scheduled to begin a meeting on Monday in Vienna, Austria. Mr. ElBaradei was first elected director general in 1997.

Miss Rice on Wednesday hinted at abandoning U.S. opposition to Mr. ElBaradei keeping his post for another four years.

?We do have a long-held view that, in general, it is better that there be two terms for these positions,? she said. ?Nonetheless, we have worked well with Dr. ElBaradei in the past.?

In December, the administration called on Mr. ElBaradei to step down, but its campaign to replace him did not win a following among the IAEA membership. No one else applied for the position, and none of the other member states proposed an alternative candidate.

?You work with what you’ve got,? a State Department official said.

The administration has in the past clashed with Mr. ElBaradei over Iraq and, more recently, Iran, accusing him of being too soft on Tehran and its nuclear program. He said the ?jury is still out? on whether Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

There were even press reports that the United States had tapped Mr. ElBaradei’s telephone conversations with Iranian diplomats, which the administration neither confirmed nor denied, as it usually does with intelligence matters.

?With respect to any alleged past disputes, we are looking forward, and there is a lot of work to be done,? Mr. McCormack said.

He noted that Miss Rice and Mr. ElBaradei met for about half an hour yesterday and ?focused primarily on strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime.?

?We continue to believe that the two-term rule is an important principle within the U.N. We believe it leads to a healthy U.N. system,? Mr. McCormack said.

Mr. ElBaradei, 62, is an Egyptian-born diplomat who studied international law at New York University. He has worked at the IAEA for 20 years.

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