Austria Nuclear Agency New Head
Hans Punz  /  AP
Abdul Samad Minty, left, of South Africa talks with Japan's Yukiya Amano prior the start of the IAEA's board meeting on March 2 in Vienna. Neither got the two-thirds majority needed to become the new head of the nuclear agency.
updated 3/27/2009 4:37:17 PM ET 2009-03-27T20:37:17

Two men with differing visions for the International Atomic Energy Agency failed Friday to win enough support to become its new chief, splitting the vote among the agency's developed and developing countries.

A meeting of the agency's 35-nation board was adjourned prematurely after neither Yukiya Amano of Japan nor Abdul Samad Minty of South Africa got the required two-thirds majority needed for victory.

With an inconclusive initial attempt to find a successor for IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, board chairwoman Taous Feroukhi of Algeria was expected on Monday to invite member nations to submit — or resubmit — candidates within the next four weeks before a new meeting.

"The slate of candidates is considered to have been wiped clean," she told reporters.

That meant that both Amano and Minty could try again — something the South African reserved judgment on, in comments after the end of the secret balloting.

But a Western diplomat familiar with Amano's intentions said the 61-year old Japanese had already said he would run in any new race if this week's meeting failed to settle the issue of ElBaradei's successor.

He asked for anonymity because his information was confidential.

Looking for consensus
Amano, generally endorsed by Western and like-minded nations that represent a majority on the board, led throughout six rounds of voting over two days, in one instance falling short of the threshold by only a single vote. But he failed to win support with developing nations, most of whom endorsed Minty.

Minty, 69, expressed disappointment. He suggested that Western nations had missed an opportunity to bridge differences with developing countries by failing to endorse his candidacy.

"We were hopeful that those that advocated change and a relationship with the developing world based on trust and partnership would — in this important election process — have implemented these noble ideas," he said. "Sadly, it appears as this has only remained as good intentions."

ElBaradei said he hoped a consensus choice could be found.

"I just hope that the agency has (a) candidate acceptable to all, north, south, east, west, because that is needed," he said.

Only one of the four men who have headed the IAEA since its establishment 52 years ago has gathered enough support to be elected outright without the need for a second board session.

Still, Minty's comments — and the clear split in the vote along political lines — reflected the deep divisions between the United States and its allies and the nations most critical of the West for its alleged indifference to the problems of have-not countries.

Eye on Iran
Iran's refusal to freeze uranium enrichment has exemplified those differences ever since Tehran became a topic of IAEA investigation after revelations seven years ago that it had a hidden nuclear program.

The representatives of some developing nations privately say they share Western fears that Iran may seek to use enrichment to develop weapons.

But as a bloc, they tend to take Iran's side when it says it has a right to an enrichment program as a way of generating nuclear energy, arguing that curbing Tehran's authority to do so could set a precedent that would restrict the technology to nations already possessing it — most of them rich countries.

This puts them in opposition to the U.S. and European allies at the forefront of attempts to pressure Iran to give up enrichment, with clash after clash on the issue deepening the chasm.

While the Obama administration has said it is ready to break with its predecessor and talk directly to Iran over the nuclear impasse, Washington still wants an IAEA head sympathetic to Washington — an ideal ElBaradei did not always fulfill.

That view of Elbaradei also plays a role in the divide over a successor.

'A second ElBaradei'
Before the voting, the U.S. and its allies had made clear, without publicly saying so, that they favor Amano over Minty because Washington sees the Japanese as someone who would be content to manage the IAEA without thrusting himself into the political fray.

Minty, in contrast, was seen as more likely to challenge the West — as has ElBaradei — if he felt it was the right thing to do.

Washington unsuccessfully lobbied in 2005 to block his appointment to another four-year term because his statements on Iraq and Iran were peppered with barely disguised criticisms of U.S. policy. Western nations also felt that that the 66-year-old Egyptian was occasionally too easy on Iran in the agency's nuclear investigation.

Support for Amano from the U.S., Canada, the European Union and others was to an extent less because he was the ideal candidate and more "because of fears that Minty would become a second ElBaradei," said the diplomat — whose country voted for the Japanese.

More on: Mohamed ElBaradei IAEA

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