VIENNA, Austria – The United States opposed the reappointment of the U.N.'s top nuclear inspector Wednesday because of his views on Iran and prewar Iraq, prompting the atomic watchdog agency to delay its decision to avoid a confrontation between Washington and other members.
The board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (search) has until June to decide whether to reappoint Mohamed ElBaradei (search) to a third term. At a brief meeting Wednesday, the board postponed a decision on the reappointment.
U.S. officials refused to comment on the meeting. But a Western diplomat familiar with their position said they were weighing their options before June and hoping to swing traditional allies to muster the minimum of 12 votes needed to block ElBaradei.
The issue of who controls the IAEA is key for Washington, which is opposed in principle to heads of U.N. agencies serving a third term but also wants someone sharing its view of which countries represent nuclear threats and what to do about them.
ElBaradei has challenged those views -- particularly over Iran and prewar Iraq, both of which President Bush labeled part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea.
ElBaradei first disputed U.S. assertions that Saddam Hussein had an active nuclear weapons program -- claims that remain unproven. He then refused to endorse assertions by Washington that Tehran was working to make nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for generating electricity.
The Bush administration called on him to step down after completing a second term, but a direct attempt to unseat ElBaradei fizzled last year when the United States could not find anyone to challenge him for a third term by the Dec. 31 deadline.
Diplomats in Vienna said Wednesday the Americans still had no candidate.
Wednesday's meeting was called earlier this month at the request of developing nations on the board.
"We're quite confident that the meeting is going to be a constructive one and it will be an additional step toward ensuring the reappointment of Dr. ElBaradei," Egypt's chief delegate, Ramzy Ezzelin Ramzy, said before the meeting.
At the time the meeting was set, diplomats hinted that developing nations hoped their cause would benefit from changes in the U.S. State Department that have left a key position temporarily in flux.
Former U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton, a key ElBaradei critic, is waiting for U.S. Senate confirmation as his nation's new ambassador to the United Nations. His designated successor, Bob Joseph, also must be approved by the Senate.