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UN Nuclear Watchdog Fails To Elect New Chief

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) failed to elect a successor to its outgoing director Mohamed El-Baradei after five rounds of voting, setting the stage for a new ballot and possibly new candidates.

IAEA logo

The search for a new IAEA director will continue with another ballot

Both Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano and South African rival Abdul Samad Minty came up short in the vote to install a successor to Mohammed El-Baradei, who will be stepping down as IAEA chief in November after 12 years of service.

In three rounds of inconclusive balloting on Thursday, March 26, Amano, 61, polled more votes than Minty, 69, but fell short of the 24 required under the agency's rules.

On Friday, the board resorted to two runoff, "yes, no or abstain" ballots for each candidate. Amano took 22 "yes" votes, 12 "no" and one abstention. Minty garnered 15 "yes" votes, 19 "no" with one abstention. The nuclear watchdog has a 35-member board.

A new ballot is likely to be held in May, possibly with new candidates

"The slate of candidates is considered to have been wiped clean," Ambassador Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, chairman of the Vienna-based governing board, told reporters.

Bridging the rich-poor divide

Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA, gestures during a press conference in Vienna, Austria, on Friday Oct. 7, 2005

El-Baradei had several spats with the Bush administration over Iran

The inconclusive balloting can be attributed to the rich-poor divide that both Amano and Minty failed to bridge. Amano, Japan's permanent representative and ambassador, had drawn the backing of wealthy -- mainly Western -- nuclear powers. Minty, Pretoria's long-time IAEA governor, on the other hand, was supported primarily by developing countries.

"A consensus candidate (is needed), someone who doesn't mark out clear differences like this ... between the developed and developing countries," Feroukhi said.

Minty, who did not announce whether or not he would run again in the next ballot, expressed disappointment at the result of Friday's voting.

"We were hopeful that those who advocated change and a relationship with the developing world based on trust and partnership would -- in this important election process -- have implemented these noble ideals, but sadly it appears as this has only remained as good intentions," he said in a statement to governors.

A senior official from the Japanese foreign ministry informed reporters that Amano would run again.

Amano has been criticized for lacking charisma, while some Western nations perceive Minty as too outspoken.

The IAEA is tasked with detecting secret nuclear bomb programs as well as coordinating global cooperation in sharing energy for peaceful purposes. Egyptian Nobel Prize-winner El-Baradei, who has been director of the IAEA since 1997, has had a difficult job recently, arguing with the Bush administration over what he viewed as its warlike approach to resolving Iran's nuclear issue. In turn, the US has accused him of overstepping his mandate as well as being too "soft" on Iran.

IAEA has new hope with Obama

Workers, unload a pressurizer, part of the Boushehr nuclear power plant facility, at the Boushehr port in southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran

Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant could be a concern for the new IAEA director

IAEA officials are now hopeful that the US foreign policy under President Barack Obama will lead to smoother cooperation as well as an increase in the IAEA's budget, which El-Baradei has referred to as "shoestring." Obama has already signaled his readiness to talk without preconditions to Iran and Syria, which are both under investigation by the IAEA.

New candidates who might enter the running to become the new IAEA director include former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo and Hungarian Tibor Toth, head of the UN panel monitoring the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO). New candidates have 28 days from Monday to indicate their intentions.

Analysts have said that third world members of the IAEA favor a politically strong director general, while many Europeans and the United States are more interested in having a technocrat run the agency.

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