Head of U.N. nuclear agency reappointed to a third term


VIENNA, Austria - The board of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency reappointed Mohamed ElBaradei to a third term as director general yesterday in a move that was widely anticipated after the United States dropped its opposition to him last week.

ElBaradei, 62, was chosen by acclamation to continue his leadership of the International Atomic Energy Agency by the agency's 35-member Board of Governors, according to a spokeswoman.

In comments to reporters after his reappointment, the one-time Egyptian diplomat underscored that he was not ready to end the agency's two-year probe of Iran's atomic energy program, which U.S. officials insist is a cover for nuclear weapons development.

"The Iran file will be closed when we close all the issues that are still open," ElBaradei said. "We are inching forward, but I'd like to have more speedy cooperation on the part of Iran."

Iran maintains that its program is only for peaceful purposes, including energy production, and has denied U.S. allegations that its ultimate goal is to manufacture nuclear weapons.

ElBaradei praised Iran for granting inspectors access to nuclear materials and for suspending its uranium enrichment program under a deal with three European countries. However, he said the U.N. nuclear agency, headquartered in Vienna, needed to know more about Iran's development of centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium.

Recent intelligence from Western countries suggests that Iran has plans for an extensive enrichment program using thousands of centrifuges. The more concentrated form of uranium produced by the equipment can be used in weapons.

The United States had framed its objection to ElBaradei by saying that no one should serve more than two terms as director general. But it was widely known that American officials were frustrated with ElBaradei's reluctance - in the run-up to the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 - to conclude that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was trying to restart his nation's nuclear program.

Later, the United States criticized the IAEA for not discovering earlier that Iran had begun to establish a sophisticated uranium enrichment program. Its existence was unveiled by a dissident group rather than the U.N. agency.

It is unclear why U.S. officials backed down in their efforts to replace ElBaradei, but there was little support from other countries for a change.

Since the nuclear agency began its investigation, it has frequently been highly critical of Iran's secrecy and the extent to which the country's leaders had developed a program that could rapidly become military. The IAEA has also criticized Iran's often-slow response to nuclear investigators' requests for access and information.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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