Japanese secures lead in race for IAEA top post

In the race to succeed Mohamed ElBaradei at the helm of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Japanese ambassador Yukiya Amano has secured a clear lead over South African diplomat Abdul Samad Minty, according to diplomats in Vienna.

world Updated: Feb 17, 2009 02:48 IST

In the race to succeed Mohamed ElBaradei at the helm of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Japanese ambassador Yukiya Amano has secured a clear lead over South African diplomat Abdul Samad Minty, according to diplomats in Vienna.

Both contenders indicated in interviews with DPA that if elected, they planned to look beyond the Iran nuclear issue and focus on the effects of the expected global rise in nuclear power use.

But diplomats who shared their views about the two seasoned non-proliferation diplomats focussed less on the candidates' agendas than on whether ElBaradei should be succeeded by someone seen as less outspoken, like Amano, or by a more political character, like Minty.

The 35 countries on the IAEA's governing board are expected to start deliberating ElBaradei's succession at or soon after their next meeting from March 2. The Egyptian diplomat is set to step down after his third term runs out in November.

A European and an Asian diplomat said Amano had secured the support of 20 or more countries on the board. Others also talked of a clear lead but said they could not predict if Amano could win two-thirds of votes cast in a likely run-off election.

Amano and Minty welcomed the willingness of US President Barack Obama's new administration to engage directly with Iran.

"Supposing there's a progress on the talks, that would have a positive implication for encouraging further cooperation on the part of Iran" with the IAEA and the United Nations Security Council, said Amano, 62, who is Japan's ambassador at the UN in Vienna.

On the telephone from Addis Ababa, Minty said that "unrelated to that, those discussions cannot replace the Agency's role" in verifying Iran's nuclear programme.

As a deputy director general in South Africa's department of foreign affairs, Minty, 69, represents his country at the IAEA board.

Both candidates stress they are not beholden to any regional group, but Vienna-based diplomats said Amano had secured a lead because he was supported by a large number of European and Western countries.

Minty, on the other hand, is seen as being close to the Non-Aligned Movement of developing countries, which has called for the Iran issue to be dealt with at the IAEA, rather than in the Security Council.

"Amano shares the West's outlook on safeguards," a European diplomat said, referring to the IAEA's nuclear inspection efforts in Iran and elsewhere. All diplomats interviewed said they did not want to be identified by name or country.

While Amano pointed out that Iran had not implemented most of the Security Council's demands, such as halting uranium enrichment, Minty did not refer directly to the UN resolutions in the interview.

"The impression is that Minty would end up being in the ElBaradei mode," said a Western diplomat.

In the past, ElBaradei has questioned the effectiveness of sanctions against Iran and has called to step up efforts for nuclear disarmament.

"Whoever the Director General is, he should be aware of the political implication of his remarks and of the activities of the agency," Amano said.

Asked about his outspokenness on the need for nuclear disarmament, Minty said he had been speaking for his government: "I've not been taking a personal position on these things."

Both candidates said they would focus on the so-called "nuclear renaissance", as a host of developing countries have recently announced plans to start producing nuclear power.

Therefore, the IAEA would have to assist in areas such as safety and security, as well as in building infrastructure. But both said it was unlikely that the increased workload for the agency would result in a much higher budget, despite Obama's announcement to double US contributions.

"With this financial crisis, although countries may increase their contributions somewhat, it would not be realistic to expect very, very substantial amounts of money to come in," Minty said.

But some countries on the IAEA board were basing their decision less on such nuclear issues than on politics, trading off votes for support in other UN organisations, according to another European diplomat.

"Countries are looking at what they can get out of it," he said.

However, if Amano does not get the necessary support from the IAEA board, the race would be opened up for additional candidates to step forward, starting a new round of diplomatic manoeuvring.

First Published: Feb 17, 2009 02:45 IST