IAEA Members Hit Stalemate on New Leadership

The stalemate leaves the future direction of the U.N.
nuclear watchdog in limbo and opens the door to new candidates who might bridge
rich-poor divisions by the agency’s next meeting.

Friday’s meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation board was adjourned
prematurely after neither Yukiya Amano of Japan nor Abdul Samad Minty of South
Africa got a required two-thirds majority needed for victory to succeed
Director General Mohamed ElBaradei.

Board chairwoman Taous Feroukhi of Algeria is expected to
invite member nations to submit — or resubmit — candidates within the next
four weeks before a new meeting.

Both Amano and Minty could try again — something the South
African appeared to rule out in comments after the end of the secret balloting.

Amano was generally endorsed by Western nations, who hold a
majority on the board. He 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.

In comments tinged with reproach, Minty 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, according to the Associated Press. “Sadly, it appears as this has
only remained as good intentions.”

His comments — and the clear split in the vote along political
lines — reflected the deep divisions within the agency between the United
States and its allies and countries critical of the West for its alleged
indifference to the problems of poorer nations.

The IAEA had wished to avoid a long delay installing a new
chief as it confronts mounting challenges, including Iran’s disputed pursuit of
nuclear technology that could yield atomic bombs and a shortage of financial
means to uphold the IAEA’s anti-proliferation mandate.

However, the board resorted to two runoff, “yes, no or
abstain” ballots Friday for each candidate. Amano garnered 22
“yes” votes, 12 “no” with one abstention. Minty collected
15 “yes” votes, 19 “no” with one abstention.

“The slate of candidates is considered to have been
wiped clean,” said Ambassador Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, chairman of the
Vienna-based governing board, according to Reuters.

Several new contenders, including several Latin Americans,
may be waiting in the wings to enter the race before the next closed-door
governors’ ballot in May.

A Japanese foreign ministry official told Japanese
journalists Amano would reenter the race. Minty said he would have
consultations with supporters before deciding what to do.

Feroukhi said both Amano and Minty had strong credentials,
but told Reuters: “A consensus candidate (is needed), someone who doesn’t
mark out clear differences like this … between the developed and developing
countries. Someone for both.”

The IAEA has a politically tricky mission — to catch secret
nuclear bomb programs and to coordinate global cooperation in sharing nuclear
energy for peaceful purposes.

Feroukhi planned consultations to see if a consensus might
emerge for one compromise candidate, in keeping with multilateral tradition and
to avoid internal IAEA divisions later.

Possible nominees include:

Luis Echavarri, the Spanish director of the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development’s nuclear energy agency

Rogelio Pfirter, the Argentinean head of the Organization
for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague and a seasoned former
nuclear treaty negotiator

Milenko Skoknic,
Chile’s ambassador to the IAEA and Feroukhi’s predecessor as board chairman.

ElBaradei, who shared the Nobel peace prize with his agency
in 2005, leaves office in November after 12 years. He was recently marked by
spats with the Bush administration over what he saw as its warlike approach to
resolving Iran’s nuclear issue.

Agency officials have said they hope a change in U.S.
foreign policy under President Barack Obama might shore up efforts to prevent
the stealthy spread of nuclear weapons technology. He has signaled a readiness
to talk without preconditions with Iran and Syria, both subject to IAEA
investigations now at an impasse, and eventually double what ElBaradei has
called a “shoestring” IAEA budget not up to tackling challenges