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Published: Sunday, 1/2/2005

Keep the atomic inspector

The latest ill-conceived international crusade by Washington neo-conservatives is to get rid of Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Mr. ElBaradei became known to Americans during the run-up to the Iraq war. He was generally seen as doing a good job through the IAEA in trying to learn the full extent of weapons of mass destruction held by Saddam Hussein s government. There, of course, were none, and with an effective IAEA on the job, war with Iraq seemed unnecessary.

Those in the Bush Administration who wanted to invade the country, however, saw the efforts of Mr. ElBaradei and the IAEA as an obstruction to their case for war. With his term as director general ending next year, some in Washington see this as payback time and want to deny him a third term.

Their argument is ostensibly based on a position that heads of international organizations should serve only two terms and then retire.

With regard to Mr. ElBaradei, this is not the assessment of anyone other than Bush Administration hardliners. The Egyptian lawyer, 62, has served two four-year terms with distinction; he is credible. He is also a Muslim and has 20 years of experience with the IAEA. He is currently deeply involved in negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program; his experience would be lost if he were replaced now.

A side issue is that Mr. ElBaradei is opposed by John R. Bolton, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and the hawks candidate to be named senior deputy to secretary of state nominee Condoleezza Rice.

America doesn t need to get even with Mohamed ElBaradei. In fact, it needs him in place to help the world work through its nuclear arms proliferation problems with countries like Iran and North Korea. What the United States should do at this point is get out of the way and allow a third term for him to be approved, with its blessing.

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