Five candidates throw hat in ring to lead nuclear watchdog

Five candidates throw hat in ring to lead nuclear watchdogVienna - A total of five candidates have put themselves foward to succeed Mohamed ElBaradei as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it was announced Monday, as the deadline for nominations drew to a close. With a deadline of midnight on Monday, diplomats said there was little likelihood of a last-minute sixth candidate coming forward.

The five come from Belgium, Spain, Slovenia, Japan and South Africa.

The latest name to emerge was that of Jean-Pol Poncelet, a former Belgian Deputy Prime Minister who currently serves as a senior vice president at the French nuclear group Areva. The Belgian embassy in Vienna confirmed his candidacy on Monday.

The Japanese Ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna, Yukiya Amano, as well as South Africa's representative, Abdul Samad Minty, have reentered the contest after failing to win a majority in a first voting session among IAEA governing board members in March.

Spanish nuclear expert Luis Echavarri, the head of the Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is another one of the new candidates.

The fifth potential successor to the current director general is the Slovenian Ernest Petric, a former ambassador in Vienna who currently serves as a judge on his country's constitutional court.

Poncelet, 57, started his career as a plutonium fuel engineer. Between 1995 and 1999, he served as deputy prime minister, minister of defense and minister of energy of his country.

He is currently responsible for sustainable development and the improvement of quality processes at Areva.

In a first session of voting among the 35 countries on the IAEA board, Amano narrowly missed the necessary two-thirds majority, while Minty had the support of only 15 countries.

The United States and European countries supported Amano, as they saw him as a nuclear-policy expert who is considered to be less politically outspoken than Minty or ElBaradei.

The current IAEA head is to retire in November after 12 years in office. A new date for voting at the IAEA board has yet to be fixed.

The issue of Iran's suspect nuclear programme is top of the in- tray for the new director general, in what is a politically highly- sensitive role

The Malaysian top nuclear official Noramly Muslim was not fielded by his government, the embassy in Vienna said Monday. Ambassador Arshad Manzoor Hussain had said in early April that a final decision would depend on the list of other candidates. (dpa)