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El-Baradei Set For Third Term As IAEA Chief --> Muhammad el-Baradei (file photo) 13 June 2005 -- Muhammad el-Baradei, the head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), looks certain to be approved for a third four-year term this week. The announcement is expected to come sometime during the weeklong meeting of the agency’s board of governors that began in Vienna today.

But el-Baradei’s future did not always look so secure. For much of the past year, his reappointment has been vigorously opposed by Washington -- until a last-minute reversal this month.

El-Baradei is a former Egyptian diplomat who has been head of the IAEA since 1997.

During his two four-year terms in office, he has been frequently in the public spotlight.

One such time was when he sought to prevent the United States from invading Iraq by disputing Washington’s claims that former President Saddam Hussein had an active nuclear weapons development program.
"His biggest achievement was to prove he was right in saying that the weapons of mass destruction that were believed to be in Iraq were not there.”

"After three months of intrusive inspections, we have, to date, found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq," el-Baradei said in March 2003, just days before the United States moved against Baghdad.

El-Baradei, 62 years old and a lawyer by training, has also received attention as a result of the Iranian nuclear crisis.

He has refused to back Washington’s charges that Tehran is using its nuclear energy program as a cover for developing nuclear weapons.

Instead, he has challenged Tehran to demonstrate its intentions are peaceful by fully opening its nuclear facilities to inspection and suspending some activities that can be used for both peaceful and military purposes.

That mirrors the strategy of three key EU states -- Britain, France, and Germany -- that are negotiating with Iran. The EU-3, as they are known, are offering Tehran trade incentives to give up its most sensitive “dual-use” activities, such as those related to uranium enrichment.

As the Europeans and el-Baradei have staked out a position of dialogue with Tehran, they have often been opposed by the United States, which would like tougher measures. Those could include having the IAEA threaten Iran with referral to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

Pushing Dialogue

But the calls for dialogue have prevailed, putting Washington under pressure to finally back the European initiative, too.

El-Baradei welcomed what he termed the new international position on Iran in April, as Iran suspended enrichment-related activities to hold ongoing talks with the EU-3.

"I understand that Iran has a right under international law to convert or enrich [uranium], but also Iran should understand that in light of its past undeclared activity, this suspension is a very important confidence-building measure. As a result of that suspension, we -- the international community -- have an ongoing dialogue between Europe supported by the U.S. and Iran. And again, not unlike North Korea, this is the only way to resolve that issue," el-Baradei said.

But if el-Baradei has been successful in maintaining a middle ground in the Iran nuclear crisis, it was far from certain until recently how long he would be able to continue in office.

That is because Washington over the past year made it very clear it intended to block el-Baradei from winning a third term that would begin in December this year.

Robert Alvarez, a nuclear expert at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, says the U.S. opposition may have reflected the fact that el-Baradei’s biggest achievements so often seem to contradict Washington.

“Unfortunately, his biggest achievement was to prove he was right in saying that the weapons of mass destruction that were believed to be in Iraq were not there,” Alvarez says.

Washington said it wanted el-Baradei to step down because it believed UN executives should adopt a two-term limit.

But while many other states among the IAEA’s 35 members also supported a two-term limit in theory, Washington ultimately failed to muster support for imposing it on el-Baradei himself. One reason is that Washington proposed no candidate of its own and no other challengers from other countries stepped forward.

On 10 June, Washington finally signaled it was getting no support in opposing el-Baradei’s reappointment.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “Based on the news reports I see out there today, the vote, if held today, would have Dr. el-Baradei continuing [as head] at the IAEA. And we would join such a consensus.”

That assures that el-Baradei will now remain at the head of the IAEA despite his continuing uneasy relations with Washington. His reappointment is expected to be announced during the IAEA Board of Governors weeklong meeting in Vienna this week, but it is not yet clear when.