Vote deadlock throws open race to head IAEA

Governors of the United Nations nuclear watchdog failed to agree on a successor to Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei on Friday after five rounds of voting, opening the field to new candidates, diplomats said.

Yukiya Amano, Japan’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was the leading candidate but fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority required in the two-day election at a special session of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.

There were three inconclusive rounds on Thursday in which Amano outpolled rival Abdul Samad Minty of South Africa in a competitive ballot, but not by a winning margin.

On Friday the board resorted to two runoff ”yes, no or abstain” ballots for each candidate. Amano took 22 ”yes” votes, 12 ”no” with one abstention. Minty garnered 15 ”yes” votes, 19 ”no” with one abstention.

A prolonged delay installing a new chief of the agency would distract attention from major challenges, including stalled IAEA investigations into alleged covert nuclear activity in Iran and Syria.

IAEA governors were now expected to wipe the slate clean and invite new nominees who might better bridge entrenched divisions between industrialised nations that already have nuclear energy and developing nations pressing for a share of it.

New candidates will have a month to throw their hats in the ring, followed by another election, probably in early May.

ElBaradei (66) retires from office in November after three terms spanning 12 years, but IAEA officials want the succession resolved by June to enable a smooth transition at a time of mounting challenges to the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The United States-backed Amano (61) had drawn the backing of rich, primarily Western nations. Minty (69), Pretoria’s longtime IAEA governor, was supported primarily by poorer countries. The two men can re-enter the election race if they so choose.

Many governors were anxious to produce an overwhelming majority if not consensus victory by one candidate in order to avoid political divisions at a later date. Among those mooted as possible, late-entering compromise candidates were:

  • Luis Echavarri, Spanish director of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s nuclear energy agency;
  • Rogelio Pfirter, Argentinian head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague and a seasoned former nuclear treaty negotiator;
  • Milenko Skoknic, Chile’s ambassador to the IAEA and Feroukhi’s predecessor as board chairperson;
  • Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere;
  • Vilmos Cserveny, Hungarian head of the IAEA’s external relations office, which was ElBaradei’s post before he was elected in 1997 to the first of his three terms. — Reuters

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