Leaked Cable May Prompt Iran to Demand Resignation of Nuclear Watchdog Chief

By Patrick Goodenough | December 3, 2010 | 5:39 AM EST

The International Atomic Energy Agency board elects Yukiya Amano of Japan as the new IAEA director-general in Vienna on July 2, 2009. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)

(CNSNews.com) – Amid rumors that Iran will demand his resignation, the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency denied any wrongdoing Thursday, following reports that leaked U.S. diplomatic cables indicated he sided with the U.S. on the Iranian nuclear standoff.

Tehran has long accused International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano of lacking impartiality.

Among the trove of classified documents leaked by WikiLeaks is one in which U.S. diplomats reported back to the State Department that Amano, shortly before assuming his post a year ago, had told a U.S. envoy “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.” Excerpts of the cable were quoted by the London Guardian.

Amano told reporters at IAEA headquarters in Vienna on Thursday that it was “not appropriate” to comment on leaked documents but said his “professional conscience” was clear.

“Having communication with member states is part of our daily professional life,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “There is nothing wrong in doing it.”

A Vienna-based U.N. source told CNSNews Thursday that he was told Iran would demand Amano’s resignation at a two-day meeting of the agency’s board of governors that ends on Friday. The Iranian mission did not respond to queries.

One of the most widely-reported issues arising from the WikiLeaks dump of diplomatic cables is the fact many Arab Gulf states are deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear activities, and some advocated military action against it.

Iran’s response to the leaks thus far has been dismissive. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested this week they were “not leaked” but purposely released to serve a political agenda, adding that they “will not have the political effect they desire.”

Amano, from Japan, was elected in mid-2009 by the IAEA’s 35-member board in a politically-charged vote that witnessed a divide between the U.S. and other Western nations – who backed him – and developing nations generally more sympathetic towards Iran. They favored a South African candidate.

Amano succeeded Egypt’s Mohammed ElBaradei, who held the post for 12 years and was long viewed by Western critics as soft on Iran. Some accused him of holding back evidence pointing to attempts by Iran to develop a weapons capability.

Shortly before leaving his post, ElBaradei claimed that the threat posed by Iran “has been hyped.”

‘Partisanship for certain policies’

The leaked cable cited by the Guardian originated from the U.S. mission in Vienna. It read in part: “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.”

An earlier cable from the Vienna mission said that Amano “distinguished his approach on Iran from that of ElBaradei,” and that the incoming director-general viewed his role as one of “a neutral and impartial party to Iran’s safeguards agreement rather than as ‘an intermediary’ …”

Also cited by the newspaper was a cable referring to the first meeting between Amano and U.S. diplomats after his mid-2009 election. It said the meeting “illustrates the very high degree of convergence between his priorities and our own agenda at the IAEA.”

In an interview with a German news magazine last September, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi accused Amano of bias.

“Amano failed a number of times with his application for this position despite the fact that he comes from a powerful country like Japan,” Salehi told Der Spiegel. “Many countries were concerned that he would yield to external pressure. He was only elected with a slim majority after he expressly promised his integrity. But exactly that is lacking from our point of view. Mr. Amano must be careful not to lose his legitimacy due to his partisanship for certain policies.”

The cable leak comes just days before the “P5+1” – permanent U.N. Security Council members the U.S., France, China, Britain and Russia plus Germany – are due to meet with Iran in Switzerland, in the first such talks for a year.

Iran says its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes, but the U.S. and others say it is using the civilian program as a cover for attempts to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

At Thursday’s IAEA board meeting, U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies said Amano’s latest report on the subject “highlights Iran’s continued lack of cooperation and failure to comply with its international nuclear obligations, and describes the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s troubling ongoing uranium enrichment and heavy water activities.”

Davies told the meeting the U.S. “has made unprecedented attempts to engage the Iranians” to resolve the concerns, and hoped that the Geneva meeting would provide the opportunity for “frank, constructive, and meaningful talks.”

Referring to the forthcoming talks, Ahmadinejad by quoted by the IRNA news agency Wednesday as saying that the governments preparing to meet with the Iranians in Geneva “must be aware that if they want to bully [Iran], the talks will bear no fruit for them.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met on the sidelines of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Kazakhstan this week to discuss issues including “the complications caused by the recent massive leak of US diplomatic cables,” a U.N. statement said.

At a press briefing Thursday, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq declined to comment on the claims relating to Amano and Iran arising from the cables.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow