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US could support UN nuclear head

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US could support UN nuclear head

The US has indicated it could support a third term for Mohamed ElBaradei as head of the UN's nuclear watchdog - if he toughens his stance on Iran.

The Bush administration had called for him to step down at the end of his second term this year.

The US is the only country to oppose his continuing at the helm of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But the US secretary of state now says it could back Mr ElBaradei and will raise the issue at Thursday's meeting.

"I'm going to meet him [Mr ElBaradei]... to discuss his vision for what the IAEA will do in these next extremely important years," Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Washington.

"Obviously, how Iran would be handled is an important issue," the US secretary of state added.

Ms Rice's comments indicate a major change of heart by the Bush administration, the BBC's Jane O'Brien in Washington says.

'Jury still out'

The US fell out with Mr ElBaradei over Iraq and Iran.

Ms Rice stopped short of an outright endorsement of the 62-year-old Egyptian lawyer who has headed the IAEA since 1997, but she did say Washington "had good relations with him" in the past.

Thursday's meeting in Washington is being seen as something of a job interview for Mr ElBaradei, who is, however, the only candidate, our correspondent says.

Ms Rice has made it clear that US support will depend on whether the two can reach agreement over the IAEA's position on Iran.

"We will see where we come out after those discussions," she said.

The US wants Mr ElBaradei to toughen up and report Iran to the UN Security Council for trying to hide its nuclear activities.

But Mr ElBaradei has said the "jury is still out" on whether Tehran is secretly developing nuclear weapons, because he had no clear proof.

However, he recently stressed that it was now up to Iran to dispel doubts about its programme "through absolute transparency measures and co-operation with the [iAEA]".

The IAEA says Mr ElBaradei will not strike a deal to secure his position. However, his decision to announce a progress report next week of the agency's two-year investigation into Iran's nuclear programme is seen by some analysts as a move aimed at winning favour with Washington.

The new IAEA head is expected to be chosen when the agency's 35-nation board of governors meets on Monday.

Story from BBC NEWS:

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