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Q+A - Outlook for new U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Amano
December 1, 2009 / 7:23 AM / in 8 years

Q+A - Outlook for new U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Amano

VIENNA (Reuters) - Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano took charge of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday, replacing Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei who retired after 12 years at the helm.

Here are some of the issues facing Amano, who scraped to victory in a prolonged leadership race at the U.N. nuclear watchdog earlier this year.


Amano, 62, has specialised in multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation posts and negotiations during decades of work in Japan’s foreign service.


Iran appears to have turned down an IAEA-brokered deal to ship its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for reprocessing into fuel for a nuclear medicine reactor in Tehran that serves 200 hospitals. It has revealed a second, previously secret uranium enrichment site and has put limits on inspector access to its other facilities.

On Sunday, Tehran announced plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants, with work starting within the next two months, a gesture of defiance following an IAEA resolution rebuking Iran for its nuclear secrecy.

The Vienna-based IAEA, which has been losing track of Iran’s growing atomic energy programme, is also concerned the Islamic Republic may be hiding more nuclear activity.

“Amano has got to refocus on strengthening (the) safeguards (inspections regime),” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, which tracks nuclear proliferation.

Diplomats say the fuel deal, a way to divest Iran of LEU stocks that could be turned into bomb material, is unlikely to make much headway under Amano, who will lack the mediating gravitas and rapport with both sides that ElBaradei had.


Western powers have warned of moves early next year to slap heavier sanctions on Iran if there is no diplomatic progress.

There is a longer-term risk that Israel, possibly backed by the United States, could resort to war against Iran if it keeps stockpiling LEU. Iran now has enough for use in 1-2 crude nuclear devices if the material were refined to high purity.

“Some countries may decide that military action of some sort is the only way to keep Iran from crossing the threshold of nuclear weapons,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

But the U.S. intelligence chief has said Iran is unlikely to be technically able to “weaponise” enrichment before 2013.


North Korea and Syria are further symptoms of an IAEA non-proliferation mandate in trouble, critics say.

Pyongyang has quit six-party denuclearisation talks, ended IAEA monitoring, begun reviving a plant to produce weapons-grade plutonium and conducted nuclear test explosions.

Syria has stonewalled an IAEA probe for over a year. The agency has been looking into intelligence suggesting Syria tried to build a clandestine plutonium-producing reactor. The site of the facility in question was bombed to rubble by Israel in 2007.


Yes. Amano will need to placate demand from 60 nations, some in the volatile Middle East, for help in launching civilian atomic energy but not by enriching uranium on their own -- a conduit to nuclear weapons because the technology is “dual-use”.

ElBaradei laid some of the vital groundwork for him. He long called for a multilateral LEU supply bank under IAEA auspices, and the agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors took the first step towards realising ElBaradei’s vision last week when they approved a Russian uranium “fuel assurance” plan. Amano will have to see the plan through to implementation.

The IAEA has also been weakened by what ElBaradei called a shoestring budget. Amano will have to convince member states to contribute more money as nuclear power continues to expand worldwide, with all the attendant proliferation risks.


He was narrowly elected as the new director general with the backing of Western powers in a drawn-out election race which highlighted a deep divide between industrialised and developing nations on the IAEA’s board.

Developing countries felt Amano was too close to a U.S.-led club of big nuclear powers, including Japan, which they accuse of hoarding the technology for political and commercial reasons.

He will have to work hard to convince the developing nation bloc, which makes up nearly half the IAEA board and includes Iran, that he also has their interests in mind.

Supporters feel the soft-spoken technocrat will be a steady hand to “depoliticise” the agency after ElBaradei, whose critics said he strayed from his mandate by taking issue with the use of sanctions and oblique threats of war against Iran and telling the West only patient diplomacy would bring a long-term solution.

Editing by Mark Heinrich

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