15 DECEMBER 2009


Despite its technical nature, IAEA is gaining more political recognition for a wider political role. While Iraq brought it to public attention, the scrupulously professional behavior of its two Directors, Hans Blix and Mohammed El-Baradei, secured its credibility worldwide. It was seen by all that the two were determined to resist pressure from all sides in their commitment to the objections of the Agency. Perhaps because of a weak leadership at the U.N. centre in New York, specialized agencies are playing an increased role in their area of competence -- with an added political dimension.

El-Baradei, an Egyptian Moslem, bade farewell this month with an invocation of St. Francis: "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace; to plant love where there is hate, to offer hope when there is despair; to bring light where there is darkness." He left in the same manner that he came in: gracious, enlightened, and effective. While his admirers are spread around the globe (his detractors are cornered in one or two spots), there is press talk in Egypt about his running for President.

How that prospect would turn out is anybody's guess, particularly that President Mubarak's intentions are not yet clarified. However, the Nobel Prize Laureate who was born in 1942 near the Giza historic pyramids has performed his functions admirably during 12 years of challenging times. His main accomplishment was to place the Atomic Energy Agency at the mainstream of international relations.

Yokuo Amano, his successor, is likely to follow suit; naturally with a different style. He has no illusions about the difficulties ahead, particularly with the Iranian issue getting closer security linkage. There are also the cases of Syria and North Korea which may erupt, depending on the outcome of discreet diplomatic contacts.

For a Japanese diplomat, and an expert in nuclear disarmament, Mr. Amano needs no briefing of the risks of proliferation, nor on the potential political -- even military -- implications. Having been born 2 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he requires no lectures on the aftermath of nuclear confrontation.

Indications point out to a wider role by Ambassador Amano not only in oversight of Iranian nuclear activities, but as a discreet back channel between Teheran and Washington. A Japanese is well placed for such a discreet role; a trusted ally of the U.S. with continued presence -- and interest -- in Iran. He will be trusted to seek results over public attention and quiet diplomacy over confrontation.

Having an experienced and capable Japanese Permanent Representative in New York, like the highly regarded Yukuo Takasu on the Security Council, would further strengthen the link between the political security arm of the U.N. and its Atomic Specialized Agency. Ambassador Takasu's proven influence within the Security Council membership since he took over his country's representation could positively compliment the future authority of the incoming new Director General in Vienna.

There seems to be an inclination among some big powers to give IAEA better tools -- and more leeway -- to perform its functions. Recent statements by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as well as the European Community, reflect a recognition that the agency could offer a number of viable options. Japan's readiness is obvious. A widened effective role now depends on how much they will join together to give it unflinching support.