Nuclear watchdog confirms five candidates for top job

IAEAVienna - The search for a successor to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohamed ElBaradei officially entered its second round Wednesday as the nuclear watchdog confirmed its list of five candidates. The Japanese and South African candidates, Yukiya Amano and Abdul Samad Minty, re-entered the race after a deadlock in a first round of voting.

The three new candidates are the nuclear industry executive Jean-Pol Poncelet from Belgium, the Slovenian constitutional judge Ernest Petric, and Luis Echavarri of Spain, who heads the nuclear branch of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Consultations are set to get under way in the next weeks to see who is to tackle the nuclear standoff with Iran, the mystery of a possible Syrian nuclear programme and the emergence of atomic energy in the coming years.

Diplomats in Vienna said the chances of Amano, the ambassador to the international organizations in Vienna, were intact, even though he narrowly missed the necessary two-thirds majority among the 35 countries on the IAEA's governing board in March.

He has been supported by the United States, as well as by European and Asian governments.

In the end, a run-off between Amano and one of the three European candidates was likely, a European Union diplomat said.

"I can't imagine two Europeans remaining in the race until the end," said the diplomat who did not want to be identified.

In the first round of voting, countries had to make a decision between the technical-minded Amano and the more political Minty, a senior diplomat who also represents his country at the IAEA.

Minty shored up 15 votes in March, and diplomats did not foresee that his support base will increase to succeed ElBaradei, who retires in November after 12 years in office.

In the next round of voting that is expected for June, the choice will be between candidates with diplomatic backgrounds, such as Amano, Minty and Petric, a former envoy in Vienna, and those with technical backgrounds.

Former Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Poncelet started his career as a plutonium fuel engineer and currently serves as a senior vice president at the French nuclear group Areva.

Likewise, Echavarri has experience in the nuclear industry, both from his earlier career as an engineer in Spain, and as the head of the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency in Paris.

Poncelet's position at one of the world's top nuclear firms could turn out to be a problem, as some countries might see him to be too close to the industry, another European diplomat said.(dpa)