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Argentine Diplomat Is New Head of the UN Nuclear Agency IAEA

By Jamshed Baruah

Photo credit: K.Nikolic | IAEA

NEW YORK | VIENNA (IDN) – Nearly three months after the death of Yukiya Amano of Japan, Rafael Mariano Grossi of Argentina has been elected as the sixth Director General of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). His election by the majority of the Agency’s board on October 29 nearly coincides with the election of the Centre-left opposition candidate Alberto Fernández as president of Argentina. [2019-10-27]

The IAEA was set up in 1957 as the world’s “Atoms for Peace and Development” organization within the United Nations family. The IAEA is the international centre for cooperation in the nuclear field. The Agency works with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies.

In 1953 the U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed the creation of an international body to both regulate and promote the peaceful use of atomic power, in his ‘Atoms for Peace’ address to the UN General Assembly. In September 1954, the U.S. proposed to the General Assembly the creation of an international agency to take control of fissile material, which could be used either for nuclear power or for nuclear weapons. This agency would establish a kind of "nuclear bank":

In a closed session on October 29, Mr Grossi – Argentina’s Ambassador to the Vienna-based IAEA – received the support of 24 Members of the 35-nation Board of Governors, ahead of Romania’s Cornel Feruta with 10 votes. A further Board meeting open to all 171 member states will appoint him as the IAEA DG for the four-year beginning January 1, 2020.

Mr. Grossi’s candidacy was supported by Brazil, a Latin American associate and member of the Agency’s board of governors, as well as the United States.

A former IAEA Assistant Director, his work as a top-level international nuclear diplomat dates back to the 1983-1989 Raúl Alfonsín presidency under the Foreign Ministry’s Nuclear Affairs Director Adolfo Saracho, who pioneered the policies of a democratic Argentina for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Late Yukiya Amano of Japan was first appointed to the office effective December 2009 and reappointed in 2013 and 2017. He passed away on July 18, 2019. He followed Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA Director General from 1997 to 2009; Hans Blix, IAEA Director General from 1981 to 1997; Sigvard Eklund, IAEA Director General from 1961 to 1981; and Sterling Cole, IAEA Director General from 1957 to 1961.

Three other candidates were nominated for the job in September, following the death of former head Yukiya Amano: Cornel Feruta of Romania, its chief coordinator under Amano and the acting director general since his death; Marta Ziakova of Slovakia; and Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso, who currently heads the Vienna-based CTBTO, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

Mr. Gross is on record as saying inspectors monitoring Iran’s nuclear deal could benefit from more openness. He will likely face U.S. and Israeli pressure to open a new investigation based on documents and nuclear material allegedly discovered in a warehouse in Tehran.

A news agency report quoted him saying in an interview, "Uncertainty arises from silence”. In the interview, he also explained his view that IAEA safeguards inspectors should communicate more clearly. He pledged “firm but fair” monitoring and a “constant dialogue” with member governments.

According to observers, as the next IAEA head, Mr. Grossi will “wade into some of the thorniest terrain in global relations”. The IAEA won a Nobel Peace Prize for debunking false intelligence that led up to the 2003 war in Iraq. Later, as a news agency report remarks, it was “thrust into disputes in Syria and North Korea as well as international concern over nuclear safety”.

Today, the Agency is faced with the unravelling of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, which began when U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the United States out of the agreement in May 2018.

According to Radio Farda is the Persian language broadcaster at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Mr Gross said after his election: "I will do my job and I think my job is to implement the mandate in a manner which is independent, which is fair, which is neutral".

Diplomats do not expect a major shift under Grossi in the IAEA's stance on its most high-profile issues, such as policing Iran's deal with major powers, which Iran is breaching step by step in response to crippling U.S. economic sanctions.

"What I think is important is that I give my member states and the international community the guarantee that I am absolutely independent and impermeable to pressure," said Grossi, a veteran of nuclear diplomacy.

In an interview to BusinessLine in September, Grossi had said that he would make sure that India’s prowess in application of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, such as medicine and agriculture, got due recognition.

In that interview, he acknowledged India’s vast pool of scientific talent and said that the Agency would tap into it in his term.

This is significant, because India’s Bhabha Atomic Research Centre has developed a number of contrivances that can be exported. Examples are ‘Bhabhatron’, a cobalt therapy machine for treating cancer, and ‘Bharat Kavach’, a nanotube-based bullet proof jacket. Under Amano, India’s capabilities were under-utilised.

Grossi said that coming from another developing country, he could understand India better. [IDN-InDepthNews, 29 October 2019]

Related article > The IAEA: In Search of a Director General

Photo credit: K.Nikolic | IAEA

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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