Officials: U.S. Wants IAEA Head Out

The United States is seeking backing from allies in a possible bid to oust the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency at a meeting later this month, diplomats and Western government officials said Wednesday.

During the same Feb. 28 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (search), Washington also will increase the pressure on Iran for allegedly trying to make nuclear weapons, the officials told The Associated Press.

Washington considers IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei (search) too soft on Iran and its alleged plans to make nuclear arms and the international community ineffective in dealing with the same perceived threat.

No U.S. comment was available for Washington's strategies for the upcoming IAEA board of governors meeting.

But several diplomats and government officials from IAEA member countries dismissed recent reports that the United States had given up attempts to unseat ElBaradei because of lack of support from other countries.

"They've been lobbying, and close friends have given them a good reception," said one of those familiar with the issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another said U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton and other senior State Department officials "were still lobbying the capitals."

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put Iran on notice that it cannot use a European diplomatic initiative to delay indefinitely accountability for a suspected nuclear weapons program.

"The Iranians need to hear that if they are unwilling to take the deal, really, that the Europeans are giving ... then the Security Council referral looms," she said in an interview Wednesday with Fox News that was taped before she arrived in Belgium.

"I don't know that anyone has said that as clearly as they should to the Iranians," she said in a strong reiteration U.S. policy that the issue of Iran's nuclear program should be taken before the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

"We have believed all along that Iran ought to be referred to the Security Council and then a variety of steps are available to the international community," she said in the interview.

"They need to hear that the discussions that they are in with the Europeans are not going to be a kind of waystation where they are allowed to continue their activities; that there's going to be an end to this and that they are going to end up in the Security Council."

Britain, France and Germany are in talks with Tehran, but the United States kept its distance from that effort and the Europeans has been reluctant to take the matter to the United Nations before making further efforts at a deal.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier used a news conference with Rice Tuesday night in Paris to repeat that France and the other European participants are committed to letting the diplomacy run its course. He said he had asked Rice for American "support and confidence."

Rice told reporters that Iran is already on notice that it must not use a civilian nuclear power program to hide a weapons project.