Japanese diplomat takes over as UN nuclear watchdog chief

A Japanese diplomat and expert on disarmament, Yukiya Amano, has taken the helm of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). His appointment comes as the UN nuclear watchdog deals with a tense standoff over Iran's nuclear programme.


AFP - Japan's Yukiya Amano, who takes over Tuesday as head of the UN nuclear watchdog, is a lifelong diplomat who has no illusions about the challenges the agency faces in hotspots including Iran.

An expert on disarmament and non-proliferation, the bespectacled Amano has represented Japan on the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board of governors since September 2005, acting as board chairman in his first year.

Seen as the Western states' candidate in the race for the director general's seat, Amano has been criticised by some for his lack of charisma.

But pointing to his country's own experience with nuclear destruction in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Amano, who was born two years after the end of World War II, vowed to combat nuclear proliferation.

"As a national coming from Japan, I'll do my utmost to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons," the 62-year-old diplomat said after the board elected him as director general in July.

And addressing the board at its end-of-year meeting last week, he thanked various member states for their messages of support.

He talked about having a sense of "expectation and enthusiasm, but also a strong sense responsibility," according to diplomats who attended the closed-door session.

And cooperation and solidarity of all the member states countries from North, from South, from East and West was "indispensable", he said.

Amano is aware that the IAEA's activities can have important political significance, especially with regards to countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea, even if it is essentially a technical organisation.

"Whoever the next director general is, what he does or says will have political implications," he told AFP in an interview earlier this year.

He said at the time that he did not expect the standoff over Iran's controversial nuclear programme to be resolved anytime soon.

At its meeting last week, the IAEA board overwhelmingly voted to censure Iran for secretly building a second uranium enrichment plant.

Amano has said there can be "no quick fix" to the dossier.

But a new US president, Barack Obama, and new director general at the IAEA "will make some difference, I hope," he said.

In addition to Iran, Amano will also have to steer the agency's investigation in Syria, where Israeli warplanes bombed a suspected nuclear reactor in September 2007.

Amano graduated from Tokyo University's law faculty before joining the foreign ministry in 1972, where he established himself as a disarmament expert.

Named as director of the ministry's nuclear energy division in 1993, he was then appointed director-general for arms control and scientific affairs before moving on to the disarmament, nonproliferation and science department in 2004.

The Japanese diplomat also took part in negotiations for major arms control instruments, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) reviews, the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and others agreements on ballistic missiles, biological and conventional weapons.

Born May 9 1947, Amano, who is married, speaks fluent Japanese, French and English.

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