March 9, 2008 / 8:04 PM / 12 years ago

Israeli minister says sack ElBaradei over Iran

JERUSALEM, March 9 (Reuters) - An Israeli cabinet minister called on Sunday for the dismissal of the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog for not doing enough to curb Iranian atomic projects with bomb-making potential.

There was no immediate International Atomic Energy Agency comment. The IAEA has long pressed for wider-ranging inspections in Iran and full cooperation with agency investigations aimed at verifying Iranian nuclear activity is wholly peaceful.

Israeli Housing Minister Zeev Boim was quoted in local media reports as saying IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei should be sacked and then alleged in a Channel One television interview that he was an agent for the Islamic Republic.

"When you examine his behaviour you cannot but reach the conclusion that he is a sort of planted agent ... who has served well the interests of Iran," said Boim, a member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment.

The United Nations has imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran to pressure it to suspend uranium enrichment. The United States and other major powers suspect Iran is enriching uranium as part of a covert effort to develop a nuclear bomb.

Iran says it is only interested in civilian nuclear energy.

Boim said ElBaradei had allowed Iran time to develop its nuclear bomb plans and that his decisions had thwarted international efforts to stop the Iranians.

"During his years as head of the agency, he has allowed (it) to be derelict in its duties and has allowed the Iranians to have probably the most important thing of all — time.

"His decisions, have many times been taken with a form of coordination with the Iranians and he has made it impossible to create a strong coalition which could stop Iran’s uranium enrichment programme," Boim said.

The IAEA has rejected past Israeli accusations of pro-Iran bias. Last week, all members of the IAEA’s 35-nation board including Israel’s main ally the United States again commended IAEA efforts to clarify the scope of Iran’s programme.

ElBaradei told the policymaking board that Iran had yet to respond substantively to intelligence reports in IAEA hands that suggest Iran studied how "weaponise" nuclear materials in the past and he would not take Iran’s denials for a final answer.

He also reiterated calls on Iran to grant unfettered snap inspections beyond two declared uranium production sites to verify it is not hiding any military nuclear activity.

ElBaradei has irked some Western leaders by suggesting the world may eventually have to live with some enrichment on Iranian soil, under IAEA monitoring, and that only diplomatic compromise, not sanctions or war, can bring a lasting solution.

Israeli intelligence officials say Iran could have a nuclear bomb in two years but Israel’s call for tougher international action against its foe was muted when a U.S. report published in December said Iran shelved its nuclear arms project in 2003.

Israel, widely believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, has said a nuclear Iran would be a threat to its existence and called for tougher international sanctions to press the Islamic Republic to halt uranium enrichment. (Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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