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New Chief of IAEA Enters 'Stormy' Times
December 2009

The new director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency stepped into the job earlier this month with some big shoes to fill and some immediate crises in Iran and North Korea to deal with.

Career Japanese diplomat and attorney Yukiya Amano, 62, is the first Asian to lead the agency. He is also from the only country ever attacked with nuclear weapons and grew up as Japan coped with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki following World War II.

As Amano took office, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a defiant statement about his country’s plans to build more uranium enrichment facilities: "Friendly relations with the agency are over."

Outgoing IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, who was awarded a Pulitzer Peace Prize as agency chief, declared the Iranian nuclear talks were at a "dead end" before leaving office.

North Korea, which has requested a peace pact and direct talks with the United States, was visited last week by Stephen Bosworth, US special representative for North Korean Policy. The meeting resulted in an acknowledgment by North Korea of the need to return to the six-party talks, but no firm pledge.

These crises, combined with the perennial budget challenges at the agency, were clearly on Amano’s mind the day he took office.

"The situation surrounding the Agency is stormy now," he said. "We have a lot of difficult challenges, but I would like to do my best. I would like to address the global issues that include non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, enhancing nuclear security, addressing the energy need, providing good health care, and water management, among others. I will try to be an impartial, reliable, and professional Director General."

Dr. Chen Kane, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute, said Amano faces the "challenge of managing a technical agency that covers highly political charged issues."

"Amano will have to find the right balance between sustaining the IAEA’s credibility in the area of safeguards and mending the growing rift between the West and the Non-Aligned Movement on issues of nuclear energy, proliferation, and disarmament."

These issues are also key to securing nuclear materials within four years, a goal outlined by President Obama, who has called a 40-plus-nation heads-of-state summit in April to discuss the policy objective. A recent Stanley Foundation dialogue discussed multilateral solutions for securing nuclear materials and examined, in part, redefining and strengthening the IAEA.

In addition, a group of more than 40 nuclear policy experts has formed the Fissile Materials Working Group, which recently sent a letter to President Obama outlining five ways he could achieve this goal. The group just announced it would host an NGO summit in Washington, DC, on April 12, in advance of the leaders’ summit to provide analysis, education, and policy recommendations that highlight the urgency of nuclear security efforts.

Sean Harder

 


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