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IAEA begins talks over new chief.

5/26/2009 9:52:18 AM

The United Nations nuclear watchdog is meeting in Austria to hear from five candidates vying for the agency's top job, after it failed to elect a director-general earlier this year.

The contenders - from Japan, South Africa, Spain, Belgium and Slovenia - will present their credentials to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board members behind closed doors on Tuesday.

Elections to replace Mohamed ElBaradei, who is stepping down in November after 12 years in office, will begin on June 9.

Tuesday's meeting comes a day after a nuclear test by North Korea, which has angered the international community and will pose a significant challenge for the UN agency.

'Objective assessment'

Taous Feroukhi, chairwoman of the the IAEA's board, said the meeting was "an opportunity for the five candidates to address the entire membership" of the agency.

"It will help the member states have an objective assessment of the five candidates. This is the main purpose," she said, adding that there would be no formal vote on the day.

The candidates presenting their cases are Jean-Pol Poncelet from Belgium, Yukiya Amano of Japan, Ernest Petric of Slovenia, Abdul Samad Minty of South Africa and Luis Echavarri of Spain.

ElBaradei's successor will take over sensitive investigations into the nuclear activities of Syria, Iran and North Korea, and will also have to persuade member countries to contribute more money to the agency's budget.

IAEA governors have been searching in vain for a strong consensus candidate who could bridge a damaging split between industrialised and developing nations.

Developed states are mainly concerned about nuclear proliferation while developing countries want someone who plays an active role in delivering nuclear technology around the world.

In March, a race between Amano and Minty was inconclusive after neither candidate was able to secure the two-thirds majority needed to become the agency's new chief.

Slovenia's candidate is a former a former IAEA ambassador, while Spain's Echavarri currently heads the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's nuclear energy agency.

Poncelet is a former Belgian deputy prime minister, defence and energy minister, and current senior vice president of Areva, a French company which mainly specialises in nuclear power. 2003 - 2009

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Date:May 26, 2009
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