UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.N. nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Friday dismissed as “total junk” accusations that he timed the release of an Iraqi report on the disappearance of 377 tons of high explosives to make it an issue in the U.S. presidential election.

The missing explosives have become a flashpoint in the final week of the campaign, with Democratic nominee John Kerry accusing President Bush of “incredible incompetence” for not securing the dangerous material and saying the blunder should cost the commander in chief his job.

A number of political commentators and editorial writers have questioned the timing of the report, accusing ElBaradei of trying to boost Kerry’s chances against Bush in next Tuesday’s election.

“It’s total junk,” ElBaradei told The Associated Press when asked about accusations that the timing of the disclosure was linked to the U.S. election. “The timing probably is unfortunate, but there is a world out there other than the American election.”

ElBaradei said the timing “was driven” by a letter dated Oct. 10 that the International Atomic Energy Agency received from Iraq’s Ministry of Science and Technology. It stated that the high explosive material had disappeared from the former military installation at Al-Qaqaa after April 9, 2003 as a result of “theft and looting … due to lack of security.”

The date the Iraqis gave was the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces, and questions have arisen about what the United States knew about Al-Qaqaa and what it did to secure the site.

“I informed the U.S. government with the hope that before the issue broke in public that they can retrieve it,” ElBaradei said. “But once it became public, of course, I had to inform the Security Council immediately.”

The New York Times reported on the missing explosives Monday, and later in the day ElBaradei sent the Iraqi letter to the council.

In a cover letter, he said the 215 tons of missing HMX explosives had been under IAEA seal and the missing RDX and PETN explosives were “both subject to regular monitoring of stock levels.”

ElBaradei, who is in New York to attend a meeting of senior U.N. staff, stressed that his primary concern is security. The IAEA, based in Vienna, Austria, has said it fears the explosives may have fallen into insurgents’ hands.

“My concern has always been security – not who knew what – but security of the troops, security of the Iraqi people,” he told the AP. “Our hope is to make sure that this stuff does not fall into the wrong hands. It’s a security issue for us, and for the world and for the Americans, of course.”

AP-ES-10-29-04 1629EDT

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