Tomorrow, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency will select a new Director, to replace Mohamed ElBaradei, who is concluding his third term in the position. None of the candidates has as much of a public profile of ElBaradei, who has won a Nobel Peace Prize and was often a controversial figure for opposing the Bush Administration’s more hawkish approach toward Iran’s nuclear program. But then, at the start of his tenure 12 years ago, neither did ElBaradei, really. Funny how leading the world’s nuclear regulator will do that to someone.
The election tomorrow will likely come down to the Japanese ambassador to the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, and his South African counterpart, Abdul Samad Minty. The vote will likely be tight, with Amano expected to attract Western support and Minty to get much from developing countries. Amano is said to be in the lead, but perhaps with not enough votes in the 35-member body to claim the required 2/3 supermajority. Japan exerts no small amount of clout, as they are the IAEA’s (and the UN’s) second-largest contributor and evidently “take UN appointments very seriously” (as if South Africa doesn’t?).
Both Amano and Minty seem qualified to take up what is really a very difficult position — one that, all things considered, ElBaradei handled very well. The IAEA General’s position is, rather awkwardly, simultaneously political and apolitical. As a monitoring body, the IAEA undertakes a scientific and investigative role, eschewing any particular agenda. As South Africa’s Minty admitted, though, given that it reports to the Security Council, which then takes action based on its information, the IAEA “by its very nature has a political role.” And its elections seem just as political.