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. Iran, Syria seeking seat on IAEA board: diplomats
VIENNA, Sept 19 (AFP) Sep 19, 2008
Iran and Syria, both under fire for allegedly engaging in clandestine nuclear activity, are two possible candidates for a seat on the board of the UN atomic watchdog, much to the consternation of Western states, diplomatic sources said Friday.

Members of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board of governors are designated and elected each year by the body's highest policy-making body, the General Conference, which comprises all 144 member states.

As of this year, there will be 145 members and this year's General Conference will be held from September 29 until October 4.

And a seat is set to become free this year with the expiry of Pakistan's one-year term.

The seat is to be allocated to another country within the so-called Middle East and South Asia (MESA) group and diplomats close to the IAEA told AFP that there are four possible candidates: Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.

MESA has until the end of the general conference to decide on a single candidate and the choice is normally adopted by consensus.

The problem is that with both Iran and Syria currently in the dock over their purported clandestine nuclear work, their nomination would almost certainly run into resistance if MESA decided to choose either of them, diplomats said.

And that could mean that a vote would have to be called at this year's General Conference, unprecedented in the IAEA's history.

The IAEA has been investigating Iran's contested nuclear programme for the past five years, but has so far been able to determine whether the activities are entirely peaceful as Tehran claims.

Western powers accuse the Islamic republic of using technology for nuclear energy as a guise to build an atomic bomb.

The United Nations Security Council has slapped three rounds of sanctions on Iran over its refusal to come clean about its nuclear programme and its refusal to cede to international demands to cease uranium enrichment, a process which can be used to make the fissile material for a nuclear bomb.

Syria, which last sat on the IAEA's board in 2006, has also fallen into disrepute after the United States alleged that it was building a covert nuclear facility at a remote desert site called Al-Kibar until it was destroyed by Israeli bombs in September 2007.

Damascus allowed a three-member team from the IAEA to visit Al-Kibar in June, but has since refused any follow-up visit. And a diplomat close to the IAEA told AFP on Friday that an official request to visit "three or four" other sites allegedly involved in clandestine nuclear activities has so far gone unanswered.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, diplomats said that the United States would not be happy if MESA decided to name either Syria or Iran as their candidate for a seat on the board.

Thus, Western states were hoping that MESA would choose a candidate that would allow the nomination to be adopted by consensus, "that is to say, neither Syria nor Iran," one diplomat said.

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