The Bush administration signaled Monday it opposes another term for Mohamed ElBaradei as Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. U.S. spokesmen cited a general policy against more than two terms for U.N. agency heads, rather than specific differences with the IAEA chief.
Officials are declining comment on a published report that the United States opposes Mr. ElBaradei on policy grounds, and has apparently gone so far as to monitor his phone calls in a quest for negative information about him.
But they do not deny that the Bush administration is inclined against a third term in office for the Egyptian diplomat, who has run the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency since 1997.
Mr. ElBaradei's second term expires next year and there is already active debate among the 35 countries that sit on the IAEA governing board about whether his tenure should continue.
The United States has had disagreements with Mr. ElBaradei over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities before the ouster of Saddam Hussein, and his more recent handling of efforts to discover the full extent of Iran's nuclear program.
But at a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. opposition to a third term is based on a general term-limit policy adopted several years ago in Geneva by the leading donor countries to U.N. organizations:
"Our view has always been that two terms is enough," he said. "The Geneva Group, that's an informal group of 14 largest donors to the U.N. system, has a policy that heads of U.N. organizations should serve no more than two terms. That has been our view. That remains our view."
Mr. Boucher did not completely rule out the possibility the United States might accept another term for Mr. ElBaradei, saying a decision on replacement or renewal would be made at the appropriate time, depending on who the candidates are.
He would not address a Sunday Washington Post report that the Bush administration has sounded out other potential contenders for the job, among them Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.
The newspaper also said U.S. officials have been examining intercepts of phone conversations Mr. ElBaradei has had with Iranian diplomats to determine if he lacks impartiality on the issue of Iran's nuclear program.
Asked about the alleged spying, spokesman Boucher said he would have nothing to say about accusations or allegations concerning U.S. intelligence.
There was a similar statement from the White House and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency also declined comment.
In Vienna, an IAEA spokesman said agency officials were not surprised by the alleged spy activity and have "always assumed" that this sort of thing goes on.