07/09/2009, 00.00
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Yukiyo Amano, Japanese, is the new director of the IAEA

by Pino Cazzaniga
He comes from the country that has experienced nuclear war and that is spearheading the peaceful use of atomic energy. A long diplomatic experience to his credit. The other competitor was the South African Abdul Samad Minty.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - 62 year old Yukiyo Amano, Ambassador of Japan to the Permanent Mission of the International Organizations in Vienna, has been chosen to head the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency). In all likelihood, the official announcement will be tomorrow. Amano will succeed current director, the Egyptian ElBaradei, whose term ends in December.

Although the position will become effective in September, after the approval of the IAEA General Assembly (146 members), the appointment is virtually certain. Japan’s candidacy is considered unusual and significant: significant because Amano is the first Asian called to cover the prestigious office and because the nation he comes from was a victim of atomic war (6th August 1945, in Hiroshima and in Nagasaki on the 9th); significant also because he seems to be the man capable of brining decisive change to the organization.

Controlling the atom

The IAEA, while not a political organization, has a significant geopolitical importance. The popular image of its function is to prevent problem nations - such as North Korea, Iran and Syria – from developing nuclear technology for military purposes. Over the past 8 years the image of ElBaradei, on a worldwide pilgrimage to monitor nuclear plants, has promoted this vision unilaterally.

In fact, the main aim of the IAEA is to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, an aim that is of relevance today more than ever. Everyone knows that under certain conditions, the thermonuclear turbines are sources of clean energy. Amano, apart from other personal qualities, from the simple fact of being Japanese, is in an excellent position to get the nomination. Japan has nuclear plants located in several areas of the nation. The fact that the archipelago is subject to frequent earth tremors, has forced its scientists to develop effective prevention techniques.

The Land of the Rising sun is at the forefront of the prevention of military use of nuclear energy. Japan has long been the champion of nuclear disarmament. Already 40 years ago the government of Tokyo approved the principle of so-called "three no": no production, no acquisition and no to the presence of nuclear weapons on its territory

A personality in response to the signs of the times

The "political" label cannot be applied to Amano’s career, as easily as it can be applied to the nature of the international organization that he is called to lead. His public personality has been forged in the field of bureaucracy and diplomacy.

In 1972, three years after graduating from the prestigious Tokyo University, he was employed by  the foreign ministry, where he climbed the career ladder in the field of disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation to fill the post of Director General of the Department of Disarmament (2004). In parallel to his bureaucratic service, he was active in the diplomatic field, as the Japanese government representative to Laos, Washington and Brussels.

In 2005 he was sent to Vienna as Japanese ambassador to the international organizations and in the same year the General Assembly of 'the IAEA chose him for the post of director of the managing team (Board of Governors), the second highest post after that of Director General, held by ElBaradei.

Amano speaks English and French fluently, the two most useful languages for the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency

A laborious candidacy

Despite his excellent qualifications, widely recognized within the IAEA, the election of new Director General has taken more than five months because one of the candidates must gain a quorum of two thirds. In the end, there was a run-off between Amano and Abdul Samad Minty, the South Africa representative: 23 votes to the Japanese 11 to the South African.

The onerous process of election was not determined by a spirit of competition between the two competitors: Minty (70) is the equal of the winning candidate with regards competence, morality and international experience.

This time the reason was purely political: Amano was supported by the governments of the "Western Group", the U.S. and EU, especially, Minty by those of developing countries, influenced by the Arabs; the former are concerned about the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons (North Korea, Iran and Syria), the latter fear seeing their access to nuclear power as an energy source, blocked.

The situation was resolved when the so-called "Group of 70" (a group of non-aligned developing countries formed in the UN)) voted in favour of Amano.


Process of globalization successfully resolved   

At the outcome of the election, Abdul Samad Minty, sent a noble message to Yakiya Amano on behalf and the government of South Africa. It reads: "I congratulate you, Ambassador Amano, for being elected as the next Director of the IAEA and we wish you all the strength necessary to perform the responsibilities attached to this nomination." And thanking supporters the letter continued: "Let us put aside our differences, to ensure that the Agency will continue its unique and independent contribution to humanity. As I said on previous occasions, my appointment was not to oppose other candidates, but was made because we strongly believe that, given the unique experience of South Africa as regards the nuclear issue and, in particular, for our ability to build consensus in a diverse society, we were convinced to offer an exceptional contribution to the future direction of the Agency "


Amano, addressing members of the board of governors said he was "heartened by the support obtained" but he also made clear that his commitment was not influenced by any political or national questions. "I will endeavour to do my best, he said, to improve the welfare of all people, ensuring sustainable development through the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons."



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