– Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls head of nuclear watchdog a US ‘puppet’ – video (Guardian, Nov. 8 2011)
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejects the International Atomic Energy Agency’s ‘serious concerns’ about research and development work by Iran, which the agency described as ‘specific to nuclear weapons’. In its report on Iran’s nuclear programme, the IAEA said it had accumulated more than 1,000 pages of documentation that led it to believe suspected nuclear weapons work was carried out under a ‘structured programme’ until 2003, and ‘some may still be ongoing’
When Yukiya Amano took over as the head of the UN nuclear watchdog last year, American diplomats described him as “director general of all states, but in agreement with us”
– Nuclear Wikileaks: Cables show cosy US relationship with IAEA chief (Guardian, Nov. 30, 2010):
This article was amended on 21 December 2010 to remove a defamatory reference to a named IAEA official.
As Mohamed ElBaradei’s term as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headed towards a close last year, Washington looked forward to the new era under Yukiya Amano with relish. In a cable in July, the American chargé, Geoffrey Pyatt, wrote:
The IAEA transition that will come as DG [director general]
ElBaradei’s term ends November 30 provides a once-a-decade opportunity to overcome bureaucratic inertia, modernize Agency operations, and position the new director general for strong leadership from the DG’s office.
In a later cable in October, the US mission in Vienna goes as far as describing Amano as “DG of all states, but in agreement with us”.
Amano reminded [the] ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the developing countries group], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.
More candidly, Amano noted the importance of maintaining a certain “constructive ambiguity” about his plans, at least until he took over for DG ElBaradei in December. With a bow to the G-77, Amano felt obliged to emphasize the importance of “balance” regarding the Agency’s work in peaceful uses of nuclear technology. For staff morale reasons, Amano planned to work on improving the quality of management while publicly praising the current standards and commending staff members for their dedication.
Most importantly, the US mission in Vienna believed that Amano would not see himself as a political player over Iran, a role the US and its allies frequently accused ElBaradei of coveting. In a July cable, Pyatt noted:
He distinguished his approach on Iran from that of
ElBaradei; Amano sees the DG/IAEA as a neutral and impartial party to Iran’s safeguards agreement rather than as “an intermediary” and saw his primary role as implementing safeguards and UNSC[United Nations Security Council]/Board resolutions. He stressed that the IAEA could not replace the P5 [+] 1 political framework for dialogue with Iran, nor vice versa.
There was satisfaction among the Americans then, after their initial post-election meeting with Amano, but no complacency in the view of an agency bureaucracy Washington viewed with some suspicion.
This meeting, Amano’s first bilateral review since his election, illustrates the very high degree of convergence between his priorities and our own agenda at the IAEA. The coming transition period provides a further window for us to shape Amano’s thinking before his agenda collides with the
IAEA Secretariat bureaucracy.
The main US concern as Amano prepared to take the helm, was that some of the agency officials that Washington found troublesome, particularly in the EXPO (external relations and policy) department, were renewing their contracts and might be hard to dislodge.
Despite whatever intentions Amano may harbor upon
taking office, a renewal in some key positions will take time, as several senior IAEA officials recently received promotions or extensions of their contracts, or both. This “burrowing in” will ensure continuity of some experienced leaders but may also confront the next DG with fixed networks of collaboration that resist supervision.
Head of the list of US worries was the Hungarian Vilmos Cserveny, the head of EXPO, who was promoted to the rank of assistant director general before the handover. But Pyatt was reassuring:
While Cserveny is viewed as a partisan of ElBaradei, we know him to be a consummate bureaucratic survivor who is likely to tack strongly towards Amano in the new structure.
There was some initial concern that Amano would bring in a complete Japanese team of assistants with him, but Amano assures the Americans that he is aware “that would send the wrong message.”
The other pressing question for the US mission during the transition was the fate of the deputy director generals, particularly Olli Heinonen, the head of the safeguards division – a widely-respected Finn who ran the inspections of Iran, Syria, North Korea and other nuclear rogue suspects, and who was consequently the second most (or perhaps the most) important person in the IAEA’s Vienna headquarters, from Washington’s point of view. He was due to retire in Summer 2010, causing some anxiety in the US delegation.
The DDG/Safeguards position will remain essential under Amano’s leadership, however, as we expect the new DG to apply less of a political filter to the conduct of safeguards investigations. Thus, the decisions of the DG/Safeguards on Iran, Syria, and other sensitive cases may be the de facto final word for the Agency’s safeguards approach in the states about which the US cares the most.
Heinonen told the American he might be persuaded to stay until 2012, depending on what other personnel changes were made. However, he ended up leaving this summer. His eventual successor, Herman Nackaerts, was clearly not a foregone conclusion, according to this cable recounting a July 2009 meeting with Amano.
While Operations C Director Nackaerts “was not bad,” Amano also had a couple of good outsiders in mind (he intimated they were Northern European or Nordic but did not name individuals.)