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Rice to Discuss New Term for IAEA Chief ElBaradei

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets Thursday with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei following news reports the Bush administration is dropping its opposition to a third term for the IAEA chief. Ms. Rice discussed Mr. ElBaradei's future and related issues, including Iran's nuclear program, Wednesday with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

There had been persistent reports of friction between the Bush administration and Mr. ElBaradei over Iraq's weapons capability before the ouster of Saddam Hussein, and his handling of Iran's nuclear program.

But the administration is apparently softening its opposition to another term for the Egyptian lawyer, the IAEA chief since 1997, amid reports of minimal support among key U.S. allies for his ouster.

At a joint press appearance with German Foreign Minister Fischer, Secretary Rice confirmed she would meet at the State Department with Mr. ElBaradei Thursday in the highest-level U.S. contact with the head of the IAEA in several months.

She said the Bush administration, as a matter of principle, still opposes extended tenure for U.N. agency heads but pointedly did not say that Mr. ElBaradei must step down.

“We have a long-held view that, in general, it is better that there be two terms for these positions,” said Ms. Rice. “Nonetheless, we have worked well with Mr. ElBaradei in the past and I'm going to meet him tomorrow to discuss what his vision for what the IAEA will do in these next extremely important years. Obviously how Iran would be handled is an important issue.”

Mr. Fischer, a key player in the European Union (EU) nuclear initiative with Iran, said Germany's experience with the IAEA under Mr. ElBaradei has been excellent and that he had no reasons for complaint.

Along with his French and British colleagues, Mr. Fischer obtained an Iranian commitment in Paris last November to halt uranium enrichment activity pending further negotiations over its nuclear program, which the United States says has a covert weapons component.

Two weeks ago Iran told the so-called EU Three it would continue the suspension and hold more talks after the Iranian presidential election in August.

In his comments in Washington, Mr. Fischer called for close coordination between United States and Europe on the issue, and said talks should proceed as long as Iran maintains the freeze at key nuclear sites.

“We think the negotiations should continue as long as the conditions for this negotiation process exists, and these are two: First of all, that both sides are negotiating based on the Paris agreement between the EU Three and Iran, and secondly that there is no change on the ground. Natanz, Isfahan, and all the other nuclear sites are under the control of IAEA inspectors, and as long as there are no activities there, as long as we have a suspension of the activities, I think the conditions are given to move forward in the negotiations,” he said.

Though not a direct participant in the talks, the United States has offered Iran economic incentives to back the negotiating process.

Secretary Rice noted that the Bush administration late last month, as promised, dropped its opposition to Iran's application for membership the World Trade Organization (WTO).

She said it is also prepared to clear the way for Iranian purchases of spare parts for its aging fleet of American-made commercial airliners, but said no additional incentives are being considered at this point.