Japan envoy re-enters widening race for IAEA chief

VIENNA, April 7 (Reuters) - A senior Japanese diplomat on Tuesday re-entered a widening race to be the next International Atomic Energy Agency chief after narrowly missing victory in a two-way election last month.

Yukiya Amano, Japan's ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, told Reuters his government had resubmitted his candidacy to the agency's 35-nation Board of Governors, joining new contenders from Slovenia and Malaysia.

A veteran in the fields of nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament and civilian atomic energy, Amano, 61, was the clear frontrunner in voting by the governors on March 26-27 but fell a single vote short of the two-thirds majority needed for victory.

Industrialized nations overwhelmingly backed Amano while developing nations generally swung behind his rival, Abdul Samad Minty of South Africa.

Algeria, the current board chairman, then threw open the contest to new nominees in hopes of attracting someone able to command enough of a consensus to run efficiently the most security-sensitive of all U.N. agencies.

The IAEA's mandate seeks to strike a difficult balance between preventing the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities to unstable states and promoting peaceful applications of atomic energy in the developing world.

Damaging internal rifts are the last thing the IAEA needs after U.S. President Barack Obama pledged long-absent diplomacy to defuse nuclear tensions with Iran, pursue nuclear disarmament and foster civil nuclear cooperation with developing nations.


An IAEA investigation into alleged covert atomic bomb work in Iran has stalled. Tehran professes to seek only civilian nuclear energy but has not opened up to inspectors. Western states want the IAEA to get tougher on suspected proliferators.

Developing nations often see the non-proliferation maxim as a pretext for keeping legitimate nuclear technology out of their hands, perpetuating the gap between rich and poor. They want the IAEA to do more to make atomic energy available to all.

Minty told Reuters on Wednesday he would decide whether to run again after fresh consultations with board members.

Another half-dozen compromise candidates could enter the fray before the April 27 deadline for nominations, including several Latin Americans and a Spaniard, Vienna diplomats say. The next round of voting is expected in early May.

Japan is the second-largest financier of the IAEA after the United States, and Amano is seen as close to U.S. positions.

"Judging from the results last month, where some developing states must have voted for me, I am the closest to being elected as it stands now. That is why I was renominated," he said.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei retires in November after three terms in office spanning 12 years. Governors want a successor chosen by June to enable a smooth transition.

But a senior diplomat close to the IAEA said the next round of voting could prove inconclusive as well and the search for a consensus candidate could drag on for months, distracting the IAEA from critical challenges.