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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tight race for atomic agency's hot seat - Todd Crowell

During most of his 12 years in office, Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was a thorn in the side of president George W Bush and others in his administration cleaving to a hard line on Iraq and Iran. Relations sank after ElBaradei publicly questioned Washington's rationale for going to war with Iraq in 2003 and they never recovered. He openly criticized US hints that it might go to war with Iran over its uranium-enrichment program and deplored Washington's withholding of information on the suspected Syrian nuclear site until after the Israelis bombed it in 2007. During his three terms as director, the Nobel Laureate ElBaradei turned what was once an obscure United Nations agency dealing with technical issues relating to non-proliferation and himself into a major international figure playing a role in investigating Iraq and Iran and issuing findings often at odds with Washington's own assessments or desires.

The two candidates are a study in contrasts. Japan has nominated Yukiya Amano, 62, a career civil servant in Japan's foreign service and well known among international disarmament and nuclear proliferation experts. The other candidate is South Africa's Abdul Samad Minty. Both are their respective country's ambassadors to the IAEA. Sources close to the agency say the Americans are quietly backing Amano on the assumption he would be "less political" than his outspoken predecessor, meaning, presumably, more amenable to the views of the United States and the rest of the industrialized world. South Africa's Minty seems more cut from the Egyptian ElBaradei's mold.


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