WASHINGTON – Reversing course, the Bush administration said Thursday it is prepared to support a third term for the head of the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency.
Last December, the administration called upon Mohamed ElBaradei (search) to step down after his term ends this summer. Differences over Iran (search) and also Iraq, where ElBaradei supported extended weapons inspections, were behind U.S. dissatisfaction.
But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday that if other nations on the IAEA's board vote this summer for a third term for ElBaradei, the United States is prepared to join the consensus.
The announcement followed a half-hour meeting between ElBaradei and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
They agreed on the urgency of halting the spread of nuclear weapons technology and that the agency's focus should be placed on suspicious Iranian actions, McCormack said.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell had opposed a third term for ElBaradei. Rice agrees that "the two-term rule is an important principle" within the U.N. , McCormack said. "It leads to a healthy U.N. system."
But, he said, ElBaradei and agency officials assigned to overseeing Iran "are working in a serious way."
"He understands clearly where we are on the issue" after talking to Rice and other Bush administration officials, the spokesman said.
ElBaradei made no statement. He did not speak to reporters entering and leaving the State Department for his meeting with Rice.
Rice had signaled at a Wednesday news conference that position on ElBaradei was about to change, saying "we have worked well with Dr. ElBaradei in the past" and that she looked forward to talking to him about "how Iran would be handled."
The Bush administration is determined to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and is relying heavily on diplomatic efforts by Germany, France and Britain.
In a pat on the back for ElBaradei, spokesman McCormack said Thursday the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (search), which he heads, "is serious in its work" and in seeing that Iran complies with its commitments to the agency.
"We look forward to working together," particularly in closing any loopholes in the treaty that might allow countries to acquire nuclear technology, McCormack said.