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White House tapping IAEA director's phones

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/washpost/20041212/ts_washpost/a57928_2004dec11&e=3 IAEA Leader s Phone Tapped Sun Dec 12,12:00 AM ET By Dafna
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 12, 2004
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      http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/washpost/20041212/ts_washpost/a57928_2004dec11&e=3
      IAEA Leader's Phone Tapped

      Sun Dec 12,12:00 AM ET

      By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post Staff Writer

      The Bush administration has dozens of intercepts of
      Mohamed ElBaradei's phone calls with Iranian diplomats
      and is scrutinizing them in search of ammunition to
      oust him as director general of the International
      Atomic Energy Agency, according to three U.S.
      government officials.

      But the diplomatic offensive will not be easy. The
      administration has failed to come up with a candidate
      willing to oppose ElBaradei, who has run the agency
      since 1997, and there is disagreement among some
      senior officials over how hard to push for his
      removal, and what the diplomatic costs of a public
      campaign against him could be.

      Although eavesdropping, even on allies, is considered
      a well-worn tool of national security and diplomacy,
      the efforts against ElBaradei demonstrate the lengths
      some within the administration are willing to go to
      replace a top international diplomat who questioned
      U.S. intelligence on Iraq (news - web sites) and is
      now taking a cautious approach on Iran.

      The intercepted calls have not produced any evidence
      of nefarious conduct by ElBaradei, according to three
      officials who have read them. But some within the
      administration believe they show ElBaradei lacks
      impartiality because he tried to help Iran navigate a
      diplomatic crisis over its nuclear programs. Others
      argue the transcripts demonstrate nothing more than
      standard telephone diplomacy.

      "Some people think he sounds way too soft on the
      Iranians, but that's about it," said one official with
      access to the intercepts.

      In Vienna, where the IAEA has its headquarters,
      officials said they were not surprised about the
      eavesdropping.

      "We've always assumed that this kind of thing goes
      on," IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said. "We wish it
      were otherwise, but we know the reality."

      The IAEA, often called the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog
      agency, coordinates nuclear safety around the world
      and monitors materials that could be diverted for
      weapons use. It has played pivotal investigative roles
      in four major crises in recent years: Iran, Iraq,
      North Korea (news - web sites) and the nuclear black
      market run by one of Pakistan's top scientists.

      Each issue has produced some tension between the
      agency and the White House, and this is not the first
      time that ElBaradei or other U.N. officials have been
      the targets of a spy campaign. Three weeks before the
      invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Observer newspaper
      in Britain published a secret directive from the
      National Security Agency ordering increased
      eavesdropping on U.N. diplomats.

      Earlier this year, Clare Short, who served in British
      Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites)'s
      cabinet, said British spies had eavesdropped on U.N.
      Secretary General Kofi Annan (news - web sites)'s
      calls during that period and that she had read
      transcripts of the intercepts.

      The NSA, which is responsible for collecting and
      decoding electronic communications for the U.S.
      government, had no information to provide on the
      ElBaradei intercepts. The CIA (news - web sites)
      refused to comment.

      ElBaradei, 62, an Egyptian diplomat who taught
      international law at New York University, is
      well-respected inside the United Nations (news - web
      sites), and many of the countries that sit on the IAEA
      board have asked him to stay for a third term
      beginning next summer.

      To block that, Washington would need to persuade a
      little more than one-third of the IAEA's 35-member
      board to vote against his reappointment.

      But even some of the administration's closest friends,
      including Britain, appear to be reluctant to join a
      fight they believe is motivated by a desire to pay
      back ElBaradei over Iraq. Without clear support and no
      candidate, the White House began searching for
      material to strengthen its argument that ElBaradei
      should be retired, according to several senior
      policymakers who would discuss strategy only on the
      condition of anonymity.

      The officials said anonymous accusations against
      ElBaradei made by U.S. officials in recent weeks are
      part of an orchestrated campaign. Some U.S. officials
      accused ElBaradei of purposely concealing damning
      details of Iran's program from the IAEA board. But
      they have offered no evidence of a coverup.

      "The plan is to keep the spotlight on ElBaradei and
      raise the heat," another U.S. official said.

      But another official said there is disagreement within
      the administration, chiefly between Undersecretary of
      State for Arms Control John R. Bolton, who aides say
      is eager to see ElBaradei go, and outgoing Secretary
      of State Colin L. Powell, over whether it would be
      worth diverting diplomatic capital that could be
      better spent on lobbying the board to get tougher with
      Iran.

      In September, Powell said ElBaradei should step aside,
      citing a term limit policy adopted several years ago
      in Geneva by the top 10 contributors to international
      organizations.

      "We think the Geneva rule is a good rule: two terms,"
      Powell told Agence France-Presse. "It's not been
      followed in the past on many occasions, more often
      than not, but we still think it's a good, useful
      rule." Powell said he discussed it personally with
      ElBaradei, who decided he would stay on if the board
      wanted him.

      "However this effort is justified by the
      administration, the assumption internationally will be
      that the United States was blackballing ElBaradei
      because of Iraq and Iran," said Robert Einhorn, who
      was assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation
      until 2001.

      Several months ago, the State Department began
      canvassing potential candidates, including Australian
      Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, two Japanese
      diplomats, two South Korean officials and a Brazilian
      disarmament expert.

      But the South Koreans and Brazil's Sergio Duarte are
      now considered to be problematic candidates because
      both countries are under IAEA investigation for
      suspect nuclear work. Downer, who is not willing to
      challenge ElBaradei, still remains the
      administration's top choice. The deadline for
      submitting alternative candidates is Dec. 31.

      "Our original strategy was to get Alex Downer to throw
      his hat in the ring, but we couldn't," one U.S.
      policymaker said. "Anyone in politics will tell you
      that you can't beat somebody with nobody, but we're
      going to try to disprove that."

      That strategy worked once before when the
      administration orchestrated the 2002 removal of Jose
      M. Bustani, who ran the Organization for the
      Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a U.N.
      organization based in The Hague (news - web sites).
      Bustani drew the administration's ire when he tried to
      involve his organization in the search for suspected
      chemical weapons in Iraq.

      The administration canvassed the organization's board
      and then forced a narrow vote for his ouster. A
      successor was found three months later, and there was
      little diplomatic fallout from the administration's
      maneuver, mostly because the OPCW has a fairly low
      profile and its members wanted to avoid being drawn
      into the diplomatic row leading up to the Iraq war.

      But John S. Wolf, who was assistant secretary of state
      for nonproliferation until June, said such action
      comes at a cost and makes it harder for the United
      States to keep the world's attention focused on
      pressing threats.

      "The net result of campaigns that others saw as
      spiteful was that even where the U.S. had quite
      legitimate and proven concerns, the atmosphere had
      been so soured that it wasn't possible to recoup,"
      Wolf said.

      Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister who
      now heads a high-level panel on U.N. reform, said that
      ElBaradei has been excellent in his job and that
      Washington would be making a mistake to challenge him:

      "If they think they can get anyone who could have
      better handled the complex and difficult issues
      surrounding North Korea, Iran and other controversies,
      they are not understanding the world right now."
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