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. IAEA's new chief promises to unblock Iran standoff
VIENNA, July 3 (AFP) Jul 03, 2009
The UN atomic watchdog's incoming chief Yukiya Amano promised Friday to go all out to resolve a long-running nuclear standoff with Iran after governors formally gave their assent to his appointment.

As the organisation in charge of nuclear safeguards, the task of the International Atomic Energy Agency's director general was to make sure that member countries stuck to their commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Amano told journalists.

"What is expected of the director general and the agency is to implement these safeguards agreements in a professional and impartial manner. And I will do my utmost" to do so, he said.

The IAEA has been investigating Iran's controversial nuclear programme for the past six years, but has so far been unable to establish whether the activities are entirely peaceful as Tehran claims.

Iran is defying the UN Security Council and amassing low-enriched uranium which the United States and its allies fear could play a crucial role in building a nuclear weapon.

The agency's current chief, Egyptian-born Mohamed ElBaradei, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for his work at the IAEA, has frequently been criticized, particularly by the United States and some of its Western allies, for being too lenient with Iran and for politicizing the agency.

ElBaradei is stepping down at the end of November after 12 years in office. And Amano has pledged in the past to try and depoliticize the IAEA and its work.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday hailed Amano's appointment.

The IAEA "represents the premier international institution for promoting the safe and secure application of nuclear energy in the pursuit of prosperity, and working jointly on global challenges such as nuclear terrorism and proliferation," she said.

"In selecting Ambassador Amano, the member states of the IAEA reiterate their common resolve to collaborate on these pressing issues," Clinton added.

On Thursday, Amano -- who had been competing against South African ambassador Abdul Samad Minty for the influential post -- scraped through to victory after six rounds of secret ballots with just enough votes for the two-thirds majority.

But under the agency's rules of procedure, his appointment had to be approved "by acclamation" at a second board meeting on Friday, this time open to all 146 IAEA member states.

The next and final hurdle will be the IAEA's general conference in September. And once it has given the green light, Amano will take over from ElBaradei when he steps down at the end of November.

The appointment process was long and protracted -- Amano previously failed to convince board members in a first formal vote back in March -- largely because the 35-member board is so deeply divided between the industrialised West and developing countries.

And the Japanese diplomat was largely seen as the preferred candidate of the West.

He insisted Friday that the director general "is an independent person. I will continue to be independent from any group or any region. As the ballotting was secret, it is difficult to know what happened, but it seems to me that I got support from developed countries as well as developing countries. Otherwise it's not possible to be elected," he said.

"I would like to reflect the interests of all the regions, all the countries and all the groups."

Turning to North Korea, which earlier this year expelled IAEA inspectors after global efforts to negotiate an end to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programmes collapsed, Amano said he "sincerely" hoped six-nation talks would resume.

Dialogue was "the only way for a solution", he said.

"I expect that the IAEA will be able to play an important role in verification of the nuclear issues of North Korea."

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