U.S. Open to Keeping ElBaradei in Job

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) left the door open Wednesday for supporting the head of the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency for another term, but said a decision might depend "on where we come out" on Iran.

If the Bush administration endorses director general Mohamed ElBaradei (search), that would mean a shift in position. Until now, senior U.S. officials made no secret of their desire to see him out when he completes his current term.

"We do have a long-held view that in general it is better that there be two terms for these positions," Rice said at a news conference.

But she tempered that by saying "we have worked well with Dr. ElBarradei in the past."

Rice and the U.N. official will meet in Washington on Thursday "to discuss his vision for what the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) will do in these next extremely important years," Rice said.

And, she said, "obviously, how Iran would be handled is an important issue."

On top of that, Rice said they would discuss strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (search), which is designed to curb the spread of dangerous technology.

"So we will see where we come out after those discussions," Rice said.

In Vienna, Austria, where the U.N. agency has its headquarters, ElBaradei let it be known that he was ready to listen to U.S. suggestions, but that he will not take a tougher stance on Iran just to secure U.S. support for another term.

The remarks by IAEA officials appeared calculated to counter speculation that ElBaradei was prepared to strike a deal with the Bush administration to ensure his future.

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said Rice invited ElBaradei "for a discussion on a variety of important nonproliferation matters" before the agency's board meets Monday in Vienna.

He said ElBaradei's bid for a third term as head of the agency would "in all likelihood" be discussed but declined to talk about specifics on the agenda.

The Bush administration wants to increase pressure on Iran to stop what it says are clandestine attempts to build nuclear weapons, and at past IAEA board meetings has promoted the option of referring Tehran to the U.N. Security Council. It has suggested ElBaradei has been too soft on Iran for not declaring it in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

U.S.-backed European negotiations with Iran were discussed Wednesday by Rice with visiting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

At the news conference Fischer said ""close coordination" between the United States and the Europeans was needed on that front as well as several others.

Rice reaffirmed U.S. support for the negotiations Germany, Britain and France are having with Iran. "I hope that the Iranians will, when those talks resume, take full advantage of the opportunity the E.U. (European Union) is giving to Iran to show the world that it is prepared to live up to its international obligations."

The United States and the Europeans would like Iran to stop all activities that could lead to production of nuclear weapons.

On Sunday, Iran said it would extend suspension of uranium enrichment until the end of July to give the Europeans time to prepare a proposal it can accept.