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    Now THAT makes me feel safer! And now we know why our wedgie was doing so much arSe licking~!

    US: Downer for nuclear job

    The Bush Administration wants Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to replace Mohamed ElBaradei as head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, The Washington Post said yesterday.

    Washington believes the International Atomic Energy Agency chief is too soft on Iran's suspected nuclear program, the paper says, and is seeking candidates to replace him.

    Its top choice is Mr Downer, but so far he has been unwilling to challenge Dr ElBaradei.

    The deadline for submitting alternative candidates, December 31, is fast approaching.

    "Our original strategy was to get Alex Downer to throw his hat in the ring, but we couldn't," a US policy maker told the Post.

    "Anyone in politics will tell you that you can't beat somebody with nobody, but we're going to try to disprove that."

    Mr Downer recently hosted Dr ElBaradei at a conference on nuclear proliferation in Sydney.

    A spokesman for Mr Downer last night said the minister would not comment on the matter.

    The United States wants the IAEA to report Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions over what Washington says is a covert nuclear weapons program. But Dr ElBaradei says the "jury is still out" on whether Tehran's program is peaceful or not.

    The Egyptian diplomat, 62, also earned the ire of Washington by questioning US intelligence on Iraq.

    The Bush Administration opposes his winning a third term in 2005 as IAEA chief.

    The Post also reported that the Bush Administration has listened in on phone calls between Dr ElBaradei and Iranian diplomats.

    "The intercepted calls have not produced any evidence of nefarious conduct by ElBaradei," the Post said, quoting three unnamed US officials who had read the transcripts.

    The official US position is that heads of international organisations should not serve more than two terms, as Dr ElBaradei will have done by next year.

    Washington has no clear candidate to replace him, but is nevertheless "searching for material" to support its argument that he should step down, the Post said.

    "Anonymous accusations against ElBaradei made by US officials in recent weeks are part of an orchestrated campaign" to oust him, the paper said, quoting "several senior policymakers" who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    These accusations include an unproven claim that Dr ElBaradei withheld damning evidence on Iran's activities from the IAEA board, it noted.

    Several months ago the State Department began canvassing potential candidates, including Mr Downer, two Japanese diplomats, two South Koreans and a Brazilian disarmament expert.

    - AFP, AAP

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