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Limited choice for next IAEA chief

March 24, 2009 15:39 IST

The mood in the corridors of the International Atomic Energy Agency is not upbeat, as the historic innings of Dr Mohamed El Baradei is drawing to a close at the end of 2009. A vote is scheduled in the Board of Governors on March 26, but the two contenders in the fray do not seem to inspire many. In fact, there is disappointment that such a high-profile agency with great potential for peace and development has not attracted the enormous talent available wide world outside the Vienna International Centre.

Unburdened by the veto, which is blamed for the emergence of colourless leaders at the United Nations, the IAEA should have had a greater choice. The faint hope is that the two candidates will fail to secure the required majority and Dr El Baradei himself will be persuaded to agree to another term or an altogether new candidate may emerge.

The two candidates, Ambassador Yukia Amano of Japan and Ambassador Abdul Samad Minty of South Africa, are both governors from their respective countries. Amano is resident in Vienna for a couple of years and he has served as the chairman of the Board of Governors.

Japanese governors become chairmen more frequently than the others because of the nature of the regional group to which Japan belongs.

Minty has been attending the Board and the General Conference of the IAEA, though he is resident in South Africa. He has a long record of anti-apartheid activities in London during the struggle. Minty was in the forefront of the effort to maintain the arms embargo against South Africa and used to appear frequently before the Arms Embargo Committee of the Security Council chaired by India in 1991-92. Both are qualified, with long experience in non-proliferation and disarmament, but neither of them has the stature to stand up to unreasonable or recalcitrant governments.

One may argue that Dr El Baradei himself was only a professional diplomat and a middle level official in the IAEA before he was chosen for the job, but the fact is that there was a wide choice of candidates and he was chosen for his qualification and experience.

Moreover, the IAEA itself has grown in stature, with greater responsibilities such as tackling nuclear terrorism and managing multilateral fuel banks and international facilities for uranium enrichment and reprocessing. In the current engagement with Iran, both Amano and Minty have established positions, which may militate against their playing an impartial role as El Baradei has done. Both Iran and the US have criticised him by turns, but both had ungrudging admiration for him. The Western press even speculated that his full blooded Egyptian wife, Aida, was of Iranian origin!

Polarisation has already taken place in the board and Japan has the reputation of dogged determination in pursuing candidatures it chooses in the UN system. The West is known to have sympathy for him and the developing countries are not in the habit of maintaining unity in such cases. Minty has the support of the African group, but it is not unusual for individual African countries to break ranks at the crucial moment. It may not, therefore, be unthinkable that Amano emerges victorious in the first round itself with the required two-thirds majority of the governors present and voting. Undecided countries may abstain and thus enable Amano to win with fewer votes

If neither of the two candidates emerges victorious after the first three rounds, the Board will vote on the one with the larger number of votes to see whether he can secure two-thirds majority. If he fails, the same opportunity will be given to the other candidate. If both of them fail, that will be the time for new candidates to enter the fray.

Of course, Amano and Minty can stay in the race, if they so wish.

The governors are holding their cards close to their chests, except for the Canadian, who has pledged support for Amano. India claims not to have made up its mind, but South Africa will expect the Indian vote, particularly in the context of the India-Brazil-South Africa grouping that has gained momentum. But the best that India should hope for is a deadlock, which will bring back Dr El Baradei or attract another eminent personality.

The kind of support that India received from Dr El Baradei in operationalising the nuclear deal without abandoning his strong attachment to the NPT is a matter of record. No wonder a grateful India has conferred the coveted Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development on him.

T P Sreenivasan is a former ambassador of India to the United Nations, Vienna, and a former governor for India at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna. He is currently the Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, and a Member of the National Security Advisory Board.

T P Sreenivasan