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US Supports Term Limit for IAEA Chief


The Bush administration says it continues to believe there should be term limits for top U.N. officials. Among those nearing the end of his second term is the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei.

The White House has made no secret of the fact it would like to see the Egyptian diplomat leave the post when his second term expires next year.

A White House spokeswoman says the United States has always supported a two term limit for U.N. organization chiefs. But she declines to comment on reports the U.S. has intercepted Mohamed ElBaradei's telephone calls in a search for evidence that could be used against him.

When pressed by reporters, spokeswoman Suzy DeFrances, would go no further than a brief statement on the term limit issue. She said only that the Bush administration does not comment on intelligence matters.

The news media inquiries were prompted by a Washington Post article that alleged the Bush administration is scrutinizing Mr. ElBaradei's conversations with Iranian diplomats. The article quotes unnamed U.S. government officials as saying calls have been intercepted and transcripts studied in hopes of convincing other countries the nuclear agency chief should retire.

These officials indicate they found no evidence of wrongdoing. Some said the calls sounded like he was being too soft on the Iranians, while others described the conversations as standard diplomacy.

Tensions between Mohamed ElBaradei and the Bush administration pre-date the war in Iraq, when he questioned U.S. intelligence. During an appearance on CNN's Late Edition program, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Delaware's Joseph Biden, said he has confidence in the IAEA's director general. "I have found him to be a pretty straight shooter. He hasn't given the administration what he wanted to hear. He turned out to be right about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Senator Biden went on to say he agrees with the White House that Mr. ElBaradei has not moved fast enough on Iran's nuclear intentions. He said he cannot confirm any wiretaps have occurred, but urged the Bush administration not to follow that path.

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