updated 6/13/2005 3:02:32 PM ET 2005-06-13T19:02:32

Mohammed ElBaradei won a third term Monday as head the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency and said he was “grateful to the United States” after the Bush administration last week publicly dropped its opposition to him.

ElBaradei, a 62-year-old Egyptian diplomat, said his priorities will include fighting the threat of nuclear proliferation and the potential menace posed by nuclear terrorism — issues on which he said he has full U.S. support.

“We looked to the future and ... did not discuss the past,” he said of the meeting last week with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that led to a public U.S. announcement for his reappointment.

In a bow to the Americans, ElBaradei said after being reconfirmed that he was “humbled by the unanimous support” expressed by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board of governors, adding: “I am grateful to the United States.”

Administration hawks accuse ElBaradei of being too mild on Iran and of trying to obstruct America’s invasion of Iraq by questioning U.S. intelligence that asserted Saddam Hussein had a nuclear arms program.

Compromise on Iran?
ElBaradei denied agreeing to be harder on Iran — whose nuclear activities are under agency review — or striking any other deal to gain American backing, saying “at the end of the day I do what I need to do” on issues facing the agency.

“It is in Iran’s interest to provide full cooperation,” ElBaradei said, adding he would tell the board in a later session that while there has been progress on some aspects of the agency’s investigation, more information is needed on its nuclear enrichment program.

In a separate report for the board, diplomats said the Islamic republic will be mildly criticized for not fully cooperating with an IAEA investigation of its activities. But they said Tehran also will come in for some praise, with the board being told the country has kept its promise of freezing a key program that could be used to make nuclear arms.

The diplomats described the report on Iran — likely to be delivered Tuesday or Wednesday by IAEA Deputy Director General Pierre Goldschmidt — as relatively mild compared with previous summaries since that nation’s nuclear program became a matter of international concern three years ago.

Tehran has been under agency review since revelations in 2003 of nearly two decades of secret nuclear activities, including work on enriching uranium — a technology that can make weapons-grade material for nuclear warheads.

Iran insists it wants to enrich only to generate nuclear power, but froze that program and linked activities late last year as it focused on talks with France, Britain and Germany intended to reduce concerns about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The report is confidential until delivery, and diplomats close to the agency who saw copies spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge its contents. Other diplomats accredited to the Vienna-based IAEA also asked they not be identified, saying they, too, were not supposed to talk on the record about what was happening inside the closed meeting.

More pressure on North Korea
The meeting also will urge North Korea, the other key international proliferation concern, to return to six-nation talks meant to entice it away from making nuclear threats in exchange for economic and political concessions, the diplomats said.

Ahead of the meeting, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said Monday he was certain international nuclear talks with North Korea would resume and called for more flexibility in offering incentives to persuade Pyongyang to disarm.

Saudi Arabia is a relatively recent issue for the agency. The country has negotiated a now-outmoded deal with the IAEA that effectively excludes it from nuclear inspections in exchange for its pledge not to have anything worth inspecting.

After formal requests from the European Union, the United States and Australia to agree to an outside inquiry by agency inspectors, the Saudis will be under pressure to show some compromise at the meeting, said the diplomats.

In Riyadh on Sunday, the Saudi news agency cited an unidentified official as saying Saudi Arabia is willing to cooperate with the IAEA. But the Saudi official didn’t mention inspection in his remarks.

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