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U.S. may support U.N. nuclear head

Mohamed ElBaradei may receive conditional support from the U.S.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held out the possibility Wednesday that the United States might support Mohamed ElBaradei for a third term as director-general of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, but said the decision could rest "on where we come out with Iran."

Such support would be a change in the U.S. stance on the issue.

"We do have a long-held view that in general it is better that there be two terms for these positions," Rice said Wednesday after a meeting with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

But she added, "we have worked well with Dr. ElBaradei in the past."

A senior State Department official said that the Bush administration is "not closed to the possibility" of supporting ElBaradei for another term directing the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Support for ElBaradei would mark a shift in U.S. policy. Administration officials have made no secret they would like to see ElBaradei leave after his second term ends this northern summer.

In December, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Bush administration opposes the reappointment of ElBaradei, citing an informal agreement among nations contributing to U.N. agencies that limits the top posts in those organizations to two terms.

The administration has clashed with the Egyptian-born ElBaradei on Iraq, where he advocated long-term weapons inspections, and on Iran, where U.S. officials have implied he has not been tough enough on its violation of international nuclear agreements.

Rice will meet with ElBaradei in Washington Thursday "to discuss his vision for what the IAEA will do in these next extremely important years," she said.

"Obviously, how Iran would be handled is an important issue," Rice said, adding that she also would discuss ideas for strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty with ElBaradei.

The United States wants to increase international pressure on Iran to stop development of what it believes is a secret nuclear weapons program.

For the past few years, the United States has tried unsuccessfully to get the IAEA board to refer the issue of Iran to the U.N. Security Council.

Rice reaffirmed U.S. support for negotiations on Iran, and said "a united front" on that country is necessary.

But she said the United States is not prepared to offer Iran anything beyond spare parts for civilian aircraft and support for Tehran's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

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