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Japan Envoy To Be Next UN Nuclear Watchdog Chief


Yukiya Amano, the director-general-designate of the IAEA
(RFE/RL) -- It took four months and several rounds of voting, but today the board of the UN's nuclear watchdog finally elected a new director-general to replace Muhammad El-Baradei.

He is Yukiya Amano, a Japanese diplomat, who'll take the helm of the International Atomic Energy Agency in November.

For months, Amano had been the front-runner, enjoying more support than any other candidate from the 35 countries on the IAEA's board.

But, at a first ballot in March, Amano fell a single vote short of the 24 needed to win.

And it took several more tries before the agency was able to make the announcement today.

Amano won not because he gained more support, but because one nation abstained in the decisive round.

That still left the vote split along the lines of rich and poor countries.

Favored Candidate

Amano was seen as the favored candidate of Western countries, in particular the United States.

His closeness to the U.S. position on Iran is part of the reason developing nations had favored his nearest challenger, South Africa's Abdul Samad Minty.

Three other candidates -- from Spain, Belgium and Slovenia -- dropped out at various stages of the race.

Such a narrow victory will come as a disappointment to those seeking an IAEA leader with broad backing.

Russia is reported to have told other board members that a wafer-thin victory would be "unacceptable."

The fear is it will undermine Amano's authority as the agency tackles many ongoing challenges.

They include Iran's disputed nuclear program, alleged illicit nuclear activities in Syria, and North Korean nuclear tests.

No Mention Of Iran

Poorer countries, meanwhile, are agitating for a share of nuclear technology they say would be for peaceful use.

Amano said today he was "very pleased" and promised to do his utmost to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

He made no mention of Iran, which is under IAEA investigation over Western suspicions -- denied by Tehran -- that its nuclear energy program is a facade for work on atomic bombs.

But in a February interview, Amano said Iran should be treated with respect through fruitful dialogue, and praised U.S. President Barack Obama's readiness to sit down and talk to Tehran over its nuclear ambitions.

"Iran continues to have the presence of inspectors. Of course, Iran is a member of the [Non-Proliferation Treaty]. But we don't have the effective framework of dialogue so far," Amano said. "Therefore, having an effective framework of dialogue with Iran is a welcoming sign."

Amano will take over from Muhammad El-Baradei, a Nobel Peace laureate who retires in November after 12 years in office.

The election process is not quite over, though.

All 145 IAEA member states are to meet again on July 3 to formally appoint Amano "by acclamation."

He will be officially named once the IAEA's General Conference gives its green light in September.