updated 12/13/2004 7:30:00 PM ET 2004-12-14T00:30:00

The Bush administration wants to oust the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency after his second term ends next summer.

No public criticism is being directed at Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian diplomat who has run the International Atomic Energy Agency since 1997.

Richard Boucher, chief spokesman for the State Department, cited as the sole U.S. reason for trying to remove him an informal agreement among 14 countries that heads of U.N. and other international bodies should serve no more than two terms.

“There is nothing exciting. There is nothing dramatic about it,” Boucher said Monday.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan echoed that characterization of the administration position.

The Washington Post said Sunday that the administration had dozens of intercepts of ElBaradei’s telephone calls with Iranian diplomats and was scrutinizing them for information to support his ouster. McClellan refused to comment on the report. “I don’t get into discussing intelligence matters,” he said.

U.S. disagreed with assessment on Iraq
ElBaradei reported progress in U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq last year while the administration was trying to rally U.N. support for the war that overthrew President Saddam Hussein. Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissed the report at the time as “all process, not substance.”

Currently, ElBaradei is pursuing a measured approach to Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Boucher’s account avoided suggesting any U.S. dissatisfaction with ElBaradei, 62, a former international lawyer.

“Our view has always been two terms is enough,” he said. Other countries in the so-called Geneva group share in that general policy, he said.

Daryl Kimball, president of the private Arms Control Association, said that the two-term stance was not “written in stone” and that the administration was irritated with ElBaradei, whose main job is monitoring the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

More than 180 countries have signed the treaty, which serves as a cornerstone in efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology.

“Key states do not agree with the U.S. that it is time for ElBaradei, who has been fair but tough, to depart the scene,” Kimball said in an interview.

“He has done a good job, and the agency has been aggressive” in promoting compliance with the treaty, Kimball said.

In addition, he said, two past directors of the U.N. agency, Hans Blix and Sigvard Eklund, each served four terms.

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