Israel criticizes IAEA head over Iran

JERUSALEM Thu Nov 8, 2007 1:23pm EST

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's deputy prime minister called on Thursday for Mohamed ElBaradei to be replaced as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, accusing him of complacency over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Shaul Mofaz's comments coincided with an Israeli newspaper report quoting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as telling confidants in private conversations that ElBaradei, an Egyptian, was "no lover of Zion", a reference to the Jewish state.

Last month, ElBardei said in a French newspaper interview Iran would need another three to eight years to make a nuclear bomb and there was plenty of time for diplomacy, sanctions, dialogue and incentives.

Olmert said at the time that if ElBardei wasn't concerned, Israel certainly was.

Speaking on Israel Radio, Mofaz said ElBaradei should be replaced because of his "irresponsible and slow actions" in dealing with Iran. Mofaz heads an Israeli team that regularly discusses strategic issues with the United States.

ElBaradei is expected to issue another report on November 22 on the progress of Iran's nuclear program, findings that could be key to whether the United Nations decides to impose a third set of sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Israel is concerned the IAEA will not toughen its stance on Iran's uranium enrichment.

Tehran rejects accusations it is seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, saying it wants nuclear technology for peaceful civilian purposes such as power generation, and has refused to heed U.N. Security Council demands to halt enrichment.

Israel is believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal and has hinted it could resort to force to stop its arch-foe Iran from producing nuclear weapons.

FRENCH SUPPORT

In Paris, France's Foreign Ministry voiced support for ElBaradei in response to Mofaz's call for him to go.

"France is very attached to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the international organization of which Mr ElBaradei is the director general. In that capacity he has our full support," the French Foreign Ministry said.

"As for the Iranian nuclear program, the IAEA reports have regularly highlighted important grey areas. That is why we will examine with the greatest of attention the report that is to be handed over soon by Mr ElBaradei on the dialogue launched with Iran on 'outstanding questions,'" the ministry said.

(Writing by Brenda Gazzar and Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Paris bureau; Editing by Stephen Weeks)

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