TOKYO, July 7 (UPI) -- A general meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency is set for Sept. 14 to confirm the recently elected veteran Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano as director general.
Amano, 62, was elected by a two-thirds majority of the 35 voting member states, beating his rival South African Abdul Minty last week.
After a required rubber-stamping of the election by all 146 member countries of the IAEA in September, Amano will officially take over from the Egyptian and 2005 Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei on Dec. 1. The often controversial ElBaradei was re-elected to the position for three terms, and he retires in November.
In an upbeat acceptance speech in Vienna, Amano acknowledged the honor bestowed upon him and noted that he will make "every effort to the effective, efficient and impartial functioning of the agency, in the interest of all member states."
Later at a news conference he said that "as a national from Japan, I will do my utmost to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. To do that, the solidarity of all the member states, countries of the north, from the south, from east and west, is absolutely necessary."
On the face of it, Amano's election is an acknowledgment of what dangers lie ahead if nuclear proliferation is allowed. On a more psychological level by noting his nationality, he is appealing to member countries to understand the depth of his personal responsibility and professional commitment to improve the lot of the IAEA. Japan is the only nation to have felt the devastating blast of an atomic bomb, precursor to today's nuclear devices.
However, some media analysts said his election announcement was met with little enthusiasm during and directly after the IAEA meeting. Poor Asian and African nations regard him as too aligned with rich nations. Some European nations believe he isn't the inclusive candidate that they would like.
Amano is no stranger to nuclear diplomacy, which led him to being appointed to the IAEA's board of governors in 2005. He will need all his diplomatic skill over the next four years as tensions rise not least in Iran and, closer to his home, North Korea. The hard-line communist nation only last weekend test-fired long-range ballistic missiles in what Japan called a "provocative" act.
Amano is a graduate of Tokyo University Law School and joined Japan's foreign service in 1972. He has served at Japanese embassies in Vientiane, Washington and Brussels, in Japan's delegation disarmament conference in Geneva and was consul general of Japan in Marseilles in 1997. He was also head of Japan's Disarmament, Non-proliferation and Science Department prior to becoming his country's ambassador to the IAEA in 2005.
He has been involved in major international negotiations including the non-proliferation of nuclear technologies and represented Japan on the U.N. Panel on Missiles in April 2001.
In a written statement U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton welcomed the appointment of Amano and reiterated the nation's backing for the IAEA. "For the American people, our investment in the IAEA is a way to ensure that atomic power is used prudently and appropriately for peaceful purposes," she said.
But the United States has in the past seen the IAEA to be soft on nuclear proliferation issues and threats. Witness Iran's curbs on IAEA inspections. Despite Iran's claims of peaceful use of nuclear technology, such hindrances only raise fears of secret bomb-making agendas.
Iran has gotten away with curbs on IAEA inspections because, according to former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the IAEA under ElBaradei was "muddying the message" to Iran. The IAEA should not be in the business of diplomacy, she said. "The IAEA is a technical agency that has a board of governors of which the United States is a member."
Amano's election could be a way of clearing up the IAEA's message, but he is more diplomat than technocrat. Negotiation rather than ostracization is his preferred modus operandi, similar to ElBaradei. Still, some Amano backers have said they believe he could "depoliticize" the IAEA leadership.
ElBaradei is all too aware of the divisions within the IAEA and some member states that have arisen during his unprecedented 12-year tenure. A year ago when he announced his intention to resign, he voiced his concern. "I just hope that the agency has a candidate acceptable to all ... north, south, east, west because that is what is needed."