Argentinian diplomat takes lead in tight race to lead UN atomic watchdog
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Argentinian diplomat takes lead in tight race to lead UN atomic watchdog

Rafael Grossi reportedly secures backing from US, Brazil and 18 others, but still shy 3 votes; agency, tasked with overseeing Iran nuclear deal, to vote this week on new leader

In this photo taken on October 2, 2019, one of the four candidates for the general director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Argentina's Rafael Grossi, speaks to the press after an agency hearing. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
In this photo taken on October 2, 2019, one of the four candidates for the general director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Argentina's Rafael Grossi, speaks to the press after an agency hearing. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Argentinian diplomat Rafael Grossi has emerged the front-runner in the tight race to become the next head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, which is tasked with monitoring the implementation of the faltering Iran nuclear deal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is searching for a new chief to fill the hole left by the death of Yukiya Amano, in July.

Romanian diplomat Cornel Feruta, the organization’s acting director general since Amano’s death, has been running neck-to-neck with Grossi to replace Amano.

Both have been lobbying to win over the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors, who are set to select Amano’s successor in a series of votes this week.

Acting Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Cornel Feruta from Romania waits for the start of the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, August 1, 2019. (Ronald Zak/AP)

But in recent days Grossi, the Argentinian ambassador to the IAEA, has pulled ahead of his rival after securing the support of the United States, Brazil and 18 other countries in a Monday vote, according to the Reuters news agency.

The report said that support for Feruta dropped to just 14 countries during Monday’s vote, while one nation abstained.

The new director general needs to secure two-thirds of the votes from the 35-member board of governors of the Vienna-based organization.

Reuters said the IAEA board would reconvene on Tuesday for another vote. If no new director is selected then, the board will convene again on Wednesday for another round of voting.

Last month, a diplomatic source in Vienna told AFP that many on the board favored Grossi because “he has been the longest in the race, has strong support from important countries, and his country is working very hard to promote him.”

Illustrative: General view of the board of governors meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, August 1, 2019. (Ronald Zak/AP)

The procedure of appointing a new director general would ordinarily take around a year but a meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors held after Amano’s death agreed to an accelerated timetable which should see a new head appointed this month.

The IAEA is tasked with monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities to ensure they abide by the terms of the 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

This has veered towards the brink of collapse since the US dramatically withdrew in May 2018.

AFP contributed to this report.

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