The IAEA Gets A New Chairman

Monday, July 6th, 2009

This news deserves more coverage in the US than Google News tells me it is getting; hopefully the fault is merely in the timing, namely around the 4th of July holiday. In any event, as the Dutch Volkskrant reports (in an article credited to Reuters and the AP), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) now has a new chairman to succeed Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, who has occupied that post since 1997 (and who together with his organization won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005). The new man is Yukiya Amano, currently Japan’s resident representative at the IAEA and who boasts a long record of service in the Japanese diplomatic corps, who last Tuesday (30 June) needed six rounds of voting among national IAEA representatives to finally (barely) gain the necessary two-thirds vote for selection to the post.

This has to be an important development, in the first place because of the vital importance these days of the IAEA, which is more-or-less the UN’s atomic power/atomic weapons supervisory agency. (It is formally an autonomous organization, but reports to both the UN General Assembly and the Security Council.) Just think of all the countries where possession/non-possession of nuclear weapons is currently an issue: North Korea, Israel, Syria – and then, of course, Iran. It’s also important because of the very troublesome relationship the US has had in the recent past with the IAEA, particularly under the George W. Bush administration (e.g. over whether the 2003 invasion of Iraq was really necessary), which actively campaigned against the re-election to the post in 2005 of Dr. ElBaradei.

Again, these days the main atomic trouble-spot is Iran (if only because, in North Korea’s case, the cat is already long out of the bag). So what is Amano’s view on the alleged Iranian ambitions for nuclear weapons? “I see no sort of indication of that in official IAEA documents” – that is, put him on the skeptics’ side (when even Dr. ElBaradei, in a recent interview with the BBC that the Volkskrant article cites, maintains that his “intuition” tells him that that is what the Iranians ultimately are pursuing). Amano’s attitude here will certainly go down rather poorly among most ranges of American public opinion but, again, it is the official attitude of the IAEA itself, i.e. of the impartial experts who are supposed to know (and whose expertise was blatantly ignored in the Bush Administration’s rush to war in 2003). For what it’s worth, it is also the long-held view of leading Middle East expert Juan Cole, who has also covered past American attempts to fool the IAEA into detecting an Iranian weapons threat by supplying it with forged evidence.

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