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. US spying on head of UN atom agency, seeking to oust him: report
WASHINGTON (AFP) Dec 12, 2004
US President George W. Bush's administration has listened in on phone calls between Mohamed ElBaradei and Iranian diplomats, seeking ammunition to oust ElBaradei as head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, The Washington Post said Sunday.

"The intercepted calls have not produced any evidence of nefarious conduct by ElBaradei," the Post said, quoting three unnamed US officials who had read the transcripts.

"Some people think he sounds way too soft on the Iranians, but that's about it," one official was quoted as saying.

The United States wants the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, which ElBaradei heads, to report Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions over what Washington says is a covert nuclear weapons program.

But ElBaradei says the "jury is still out" on whether Tehran's program is peaceful or not.

The Egyptian diplomat, 62, also earned the ire of Washington by questioning US intelligence on Iraq. The Bush administration opposes his winning a third term in 2005 as IAEA chief.

The official US position is that heads of international organizations should not serve more than two terms, as ElBaradei will have done by next year.

Washington has no clear candidate to replace him but is nevertheless "searching for material" to support its argument that he should step down, the Post said.

"Anonymous accusations against ElBaradei made by US officials in recent weeks are part of an orchestrated campaign" to oust him, the paper said, quoting "several senior policymakers" who spoke on condition of anonymity.

These accusations include an unproven charge that ElBaradei withheld damning evidence on Iran's activities from the IAEA board, it noted.

Washington's top favorite to replace ElBaradei is Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, but he has been unwilling to challenge the IAEA chief, the Post said.

The deadline for submitting alternative candidates, December 31, is fast approaching.

"Our original strategy was to get Alex Downer to throw his hat in the ring, but we couldn't," a US policy maker told the Post. "Anyone in politics will tell you that you can't beat somebody with nobody, but we're going to try to disprove that."

Senator Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN that the eavesdropping had not revealed ElBaradei had done anything wrong or "inappropriate."

"He hasn't given the administration (of US President George W. Bush) what they wanted to hear. He turned out to be right about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction," Biden said of ElBaradei.

"I think it's a very slippery, dangerous slope, as we are trying to reestablish ourselves as a player in the international community," Biden said, "I would be very careful if I were them."

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