IAEA to choose new chief on 26 March

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors will vote on March 26 for a new director at a time of growing nuclear proliferation challenges but new diplomatic hope offered by U.S. President Barack Obama.
The vote by the U.N. watchdog will pit Japan’s ambassador to the agency, Yukiya Amano, backed mainly by industrialized countries, against South Africa’s Abdul Samad Minty (pictiured) with core support among developing nations.
Amano, 61, is favoured over Minty, 69, but is short of the two-thirds majority needed for victory, Vienna diplomats tell Reuters.
IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei, who shared the Nobel peace prize with his agency in 2005, leaves office in November after 12 years, recently marked by spats with the Bush administration over what he saw as its warlike approach to resolving Iran’s nuclear issue. His successor must be chosen by June.
There may soon be a diplomatic opening that could help the IAEA’s struggling efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons know-how and in particular to resolve allegations of weapons work in Iran and Syria.
Obama has signalled a readiness to talk without preconditions with both countries, reversing a policy of isolation practiced by his predecessor for years.
Campaigning before Board members, Amano said he would apply the IAEA’s mandate to forestall nuclear proliferators and promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy via technical cooperation “in a balanced manner.”
This was a pitch to developing nations which want an IAEA helmsman to raise awareness that nuclear disarmament by big powers and improved sharing of atomic energy for development are priorities just as important as non-proliferation.
Industrialized nations want an IAEA chief less politically outspoken than ElBaradei, sticking more to executing the IAEA’s technical mandate, whose priority they see as preventing diversions of nuclear energy to bomb-making.
They believe the low-key Amano would depoliticize the agency better than Minty, a former anti-apartheid activist identified with developing nation positions on disarmament. But developing nations see Amano as too close to Western powers.
Amano emphasized Japan’s past as key to his campaign. “I come from a country that has the experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I have a firm commitment against proliferation and my commitment will be reflected if I am elected.”
Minty, an experienced mediator, told fellow IAEA governors that the agency “by its very nature has a political role” since it reports to the UN Security Council, but added “we should take care neither to over-emphasise nor ignore this role.”
He also stressed South Africa’s nuclear technology credentials and a preference for consensus-building. “We are a country of the South and that allows us to cross all barriers and work for consensus,” he told reporters.
Amano and Minty both said nuclear safeguards must be strengthened urgently, especially by getting more countries, like Iran and Syria, to accept more intrusive IAEA inspections. 
Both also said the world financial crisis meant the IAEA could not soon count on major budget rises sought by ElBaradei to upgrade crumbling inspections infrastructure, including laboratories that analyze evidence of secret nuclear activity.
Diplomats in a closed-door governors’ meeting that approved the election date said there would be three rounds of secret balloting if needed to produce a winning margin.
Board chairman Algeria wants a clear majority in order to avoid political divisions at a later date, diplomats said.
Amano is seen securing some 18-20 votes, short of the minimum 24 needed for a two-thirds majority. Minty is seen with around 10-12 votes. If the March vote is inconclusive, the race would be thrown open to new candidates for the four-year term.