UN nuclear watchdog must approach Iran standoff with an even hand, says IAEA leadership candidate

UN nuclear watchdog must approach Iran standoff with an even hand, says IAEA leadership candidate

Rafael Grossi says nuclear power has a positive role to play in Middle East

One of four contenders for the top job at the UN’s nuclear energy body, Argentina’s Rafael Grossi, insisted that the organisation must defend the credibility of the global nuclear rule book.

With Iranian breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal causing increased regional unease, Mr Grossi said the best course of action was for the International Atomic Energy Agency to act as a neutral arbiter.

Argentina’s ambassador to the IAEA told The National in Vienna at the organisation’s 63rd general conference that it needed to act impartially over Iran’s breaches of the deal.

Experts have indicated that at times the agency has appeared too close to Tehran, becoming a defender of the agreement.

The accord, struck between Iran and China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the US, curbed Tehran’s nuclear powers in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Mr Grossi said he would try to battle any perception of bias when dealing with Iran.

“The agency has been dealing with this in a satisfactory manner,” he said. “This is an inspecting and auditing type of exercise that does not lend itself to opinion.

“We are there to ascertain, to check, monitor and verify and tell it as it is, and I am extremely confident in that role.

"We are an instrument of transparency and we are an intelligent instrument of transparency.”

This week at its 63rd general conference, the IAEA has been grappling with Iranian violations of the deal, among other issues.

Tehran has flouted the caps set on enrichment in the deal three times since the US withdrew from the pact last year.

The latest announced breach coincides with meetings between Iran and the watchdog's acting director general, Cornel Feruta of Romania, in Tehran this month.

Mr Feruta is one of Mr Grossi’s rivals for the role of IAEA chief.

The Argentine said only Mr Feruta could answer questions about what had happened with the delegation in Iran “in terms of substance or opportunity”.

Mr Grossi said that if he were elected, the UN agency would continue to report the facts as they appeared.

“These series of announcements from Iran are clear and the agency is supposed to report on what they see and what they check on site," he said.

"If I am elected, I am obliged and I must interact with Iran."

But Mr Grossi stressed that nuclear power, when used peacefully, could be a force for good in the Middle East.

He praised efforts by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt as they expand their use of nuclear technology for civilian purposes.

“You can no longer think of the Middle East as a region that is a source of proliferation concern,” Mr Grossi said.

“It is a reality that nuclear power can play a positive role in the region. It is a new phase in the Middle East in which nuclear power will be part of the energy mix.”

Mr Grossi also stressed the economic benefits of nuclear technology development.

A veteran of nuclear diplomacy, he was on Tuesday given strong backing by the US Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, in his campaign to direct the IAEA.

“Sounds like a perfect candidate,” Mr Perry said at the general conference. But he stopped short of giving Mr Grossi a formal US endorsement.

The Argentine faces stiff competition from Mr Feruta for the role.

The Romanian was the right-hand man of former chief ­Yukiya Amano, who died in July as he was preparing to step down from the post.

Mr Feruta is regarded by agency insiders as a continuity candidate and a reassuringly familiar figure as the agency deals with significant challenges across the world.

Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso and Slovakia’s nuclear regulatory chief Marta Ziakova are also competing for the job.

Mr Grossi, who has secured the backing of the Latin American bloc and nations including India, met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month, in what was considered to be another tacit endorsement from Washington.

The US has been increasing pressure on Tehran after withdrawing from the nuclear deal.

It said Iran was manipulating the agreement while carrying out ballistic missile tests and backing proxy forces in regional conflicts.

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