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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Five Candidates Vie for Top IAEA Post
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Peter Crail

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced April 29 that the field of candidates for director-general has expanded from two to five.

The agency had reopened the nominating process following an inconclusive vote in March to replace the agency's current head, Mohamed ElBaradei, who is scheduled to end his third four-year term in November. He has indicated that he will not be available for a fourth term. ElBaradei could remain in his position provisionally if a candidate is not elected by the end of his term, diplomatic sources familiar with the election process told Arms Control Today in recent weeks.

The search for new leadership comes as the agency is investigating suspicions that Iran and Syria have pursued nuclear weapons programs. The IAEA also is concluding a complex facility-specific safeguards arrangement for nuclear-armed India and is considering multilateral efforts to address the sensitive aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle.

The 35-nation IAEA Board of Governors carried out a series of votes March 26-27 to try to choose between two nominees, Yukiya Amano and Abdul Samad Minty. Amano is Japan's governor on the board, while Minty is South Africa's. In the final ballot, Amano secured 22 votes, just one short of the two-thirds vote necessary to win the election.

According to former U.S. and IAEA officials, the March voting results largely reflected a split between Western states and the developing world. Amano is widely seen by the developing world, as well as China and Russia, as too close to the United States to serve as an independent director of the agency, the sources said. Meanwhile, those sources said, Western governments are concerned that the outspoken Minty may politicize the organization.

The United States has criticized ElBaradei in recent years for speaking out on political decisions rather than focusing solely on the nuclear energy and safeguards tasks of the agency. (See ACT, October 2008.)

Following the failed vote, board chairperson Taous Feroukhi of Algeria told reporters March 27 that the agency would reopen the nominating process. A diplomatic source in Vienna said April 22 that the "general guidance" is that the board should come to a decision by its June 15-19 meeting, but no date has been scheduled for additional voting.

According to election procedures, a candidate must secure approval from two-thirds of the board in order to be appointed director-general. The diplomatic source said that the specific process by which the board might narrow the candidates and arrive at the two-thirds majority is largely subject to its consultations before the voting. In addition, the candidates may opt out of the running as part of the overall political jockeying among the board members.

After securing the board's endorsement, a candidate must be approved by the agency's 146 member states during its general conference, which takes place in September.

Since the nominating process was reopened, three new official nominees have emerged: Luis Echávarri of Spain, Ernest Petrič of Slovenia, and Jean-Pol Poncelet of Belgium. Amano and Minty have also been renominated.

In the last contested director-general election, in 1997, the board decided on ElBaradei as a compromise candidate from within the agency's secretariat, rather than choosing a political figure. Prior to becoming head of the agency, ElBaradei served as assistant director-general for external relations. A similar approach is possible in this year's election, but it is unclear who might play such a role, the former officials said.

There has been some speculation about two senior agency officials, but they appear to be unlikely candidates. Olli Heinonen of Finland, IAEA deputy director-general for safeguards, told Arms Control Today last September that he did not intend to run for the post. The former officials indicated that Vilmos Cserveny of Hungary, director of the IAEA Office of External Relations and Policy Coordination, would face difficulties in securing political support because another Hungarian, Tibor Tóth, is currently heading the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization.

Candidates for IAEA Director-General

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced the following five official nominations for the position of director-general on April 29. The IAEA hopes to hold elections and appoint a candidate by its June 15-19 Board of Governors meeting.

Yukiya Amano (Japan): Amano is Japan's ambassador to the international organizations in Vienna, including the IAEA. He served as chairman of the Board of Governors in 2005-2006 and accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IAEA along with Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei in 2005.

Luis Echávarri (Spain): Echávarri has headed the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD/NEA) since 1997. The OECD/NEA consists of 28 member states, which collectively represent about 85 percent of the world's nuclear energy capacity. Echávarri has also served as a member of the IAEA's Nuclear Safety Advisory Group since 2003.

Abdul Minty (South Africa): Minty is deputy director-general of South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs and its representative to the IAEA Board of Governors since 1995. He is also chairman of the South African Council for the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Ernest Petrič (Slovenia): Petrič is Slovenia's permanent representative to the United Nations organizations in Vienna, including the IAEA, where he has served since 2002. Petrič became Slovenia's governor on the IAEA Board of Governors in 2006, when he also began a year-long term as chairman of the board. During 2005-2006, he was deputy governor for Slovenia on the board.

Jean-Pol Poncelet (Belgium): Poncelet is senior vice president for sustainable development and continuous improvement for the French nuclear conglomerate Areva. Poncelet joined Areva after serving in senior positions in the European Space Agency and the Belgian government. His government positions included deputy prime minister, minister of defense, and minister of energy.