Bush, U.N. official to discuss arms

U.S. seeks tighter controls on nuclear technology

March 15, 2004|By Paul Richter | Paul Richter,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief United Nations nuclear inspector and a critic of U.S. claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is scheduled to meet with President Bush this week to discuss ways to tighten controls on nuclear weapons technology.

The meeting, which was requested by the White House, comes as the International Atomic Energy Agency, headed by ElBaradei, and governments worldwide search for the means to prevent a repeat of the sales of advanced nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Bush wants to discuss proposals to make selling nuclear technology a crime, strengthen the IAEA's ability to monitor nuclear proliferation and reduce access to equipment to enrich uranium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons, according to U.S. officials in Washington and diplomats in Vienna, Austria, where the IAEA is based.

The agenda is expected to include Iran's decision Saturday to freeze IAEA inspections. The Iranians acted in response to a strongly worded resolution approved by the IAEA board that criticizes the Tehran regime for concealing some of its nuclear activities, which the U.S. administration says are part of a weapons program.

A senior U.S. official in Washington said Bush is eager to talk with ElBaradei despite past differences over Iraq and Iran. In addition to his meeting with Bush, scheduled for Thursday, ElBaradei is also to meet with CIA Director George J. Tenet to discuss ways to share intelligence on nuclear proliferation and black markets. The issue took on additional significance with recent disclosure about Pakistan's role in providing nuclear technology and know-how to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

"He's obviously not someone we've agreed with on everything going down the road," the U.S. official said of ElBaradei. "But he's a serious guy, and somebody that we have worked with and look forward to working with."

ElBaradei contradicted the Bush administration last year by saying that international inspectors had found no evidence of a continuing nuclear program in Iraq. Some U.S. officials also have criticized him for not coming down harder on Iran after the discoveries of its concealed activities and for missing Libya's nuclear program.

ElBaradei will complete his second four-year term as IAEA director in September 2005, but he is required to tell the governing board this September whether he intends to seek another term.

Names of possible replacements are circulating in the corridors of the IAEA headquarters, and some diplomats said successors are being pushed by hard-line elements of the Bush administration.

The United States provides 25 percent of the IAEA's budget, far more than any other country.

If Washington got behind a campaign to replace ElBaradei, it would be difficult for him to seek another four years, according to diplomats in Vienna. But U.S. officials in Washington strongly denied any effort to encourage other candidates for the job, and said that criticism of ElBaradei did not reflect administration policy.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Times staff writer Douglas Frantz contributed to this article from Vienna.

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