U.N. Mulls New Term for Nuke Agency Head

The U.N. (search) nuclear watchdog agency Tuesday set a special meeting for later this month to vote whether its director can run for a third term despite U.S. objections.

At least a third of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (search) board of governors must vote against Director General Mohamed ElBaradei (search) for a third term.

Diplomats said the United States was alone in its total opposition to ElBaradei but could try to swing traditional allies behind it ahead of the meeting.

The April 27 meeting was called by request of developing nations on the 35-nation board of governors, which support ElBaradei's reappointment.

The Americans, and some allies, are opposed. But diplomats accredited to the agency and familiar with the U.S. view said it was not immediately clear how strongly Washington would lobby for ElBaradei's ouster at the special meeting.

The diplomats, who demanded anonymity, suggested the developing nations had called for the meeting now because they hoped their cause would benefit from changes in the U.S. State Department that have left a key position temporarily in flux.

Former Undersecretary of State John Bolton, a key ElBaradei critic, is waiting for U.S. Senate confirmation as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. His designated successor, Bob Joseph, also has to be approved by the Senate.

Washington wants someone who shares 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 labeled part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea by President Bush.

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 Iran was working to make nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program is for generating electricity.

A direct U.S. attempt to unseat ElBaradei fizzled, with the Americans unable to find anyone to challenge him for a third term by the Dec. 31 deadline, shortly after the Bush administration called on him to step down after completing a second term last summer.