Wall Street Journal: The United Nations’ nuclear chief, Yukiya Amano, is stepping up efforts to gain access to Iranian scientists, secret documents and military sites, even as Tehran unleashes new attacks against his credibility and mandate.
The Wall Street Journal
By JAY SOLOMON
VIENNA—The United Nations’ nuclear chief, Yukiya Amano, is stepping up efforts to gain access to Iranian scientists, secret documents and military sites, even as Tehran unleashes new attacks against his credibility and mandate.
The increasingly personal nature of the standoff between Mr. Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Tehran’s regime continued, as Iran rejected an agency invitation to a gathering last week aimed at countering proliferation and establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
In Iran, Mr. Amano’s agency is seeking an interview in Tehran with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist believed to be overseeing Iran’s nuclear-weapons research. The agency also wants access to a military site called Parchin, 18 miles south of Tehran,, which is suspected of conducting high-explosives testing.
“We have listed the elements that need to be addressed,” Mr. Amano said in a recent interview. “We would like to have access to people, documents, information and locations.”
But Tehran has fired volleys of insults, accusing Mr. Amano of everything from colluding with Washington to complicity in a string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years.
Mr. Amano, a soft-spoken Japanese diplomat, took center stage in global affairs this month by releasing a study documenting Iran’s alleged efforts to develop the technologies needed to develop nuclear-tipped mid-range missiles and bomb-triggering systems. Tehran quickly rebuked the report, calling it politically motivated and based on falsified information.
But Iranian officials have directed particularly harsh rhetoric at Mr. Amano, 64 years old, who is entering the third year in his post.
“What is happening is politicizing and polarizing,” Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, said recently. “The director general, unfortunately, has made a historic mistake.”
Iranian officials also rebuffed Mr. Amano’s call for a high-level U.N. technical team to visit Tehran in the coming weeks to discuss the report and say they have lost trust in the atomic agency.
In an interview in his office, which oversees the Danube River, Mr. Amano acknowledged that the agency’s relations with Tehran have grown more tense. But he said the seriousness of the information raised by the report made it imperative for him to make it public for the U.N. agency’s members.
“I didn’t think it would be smooth if I circulated this report to member states,” he said. “But this is a process that we have to go through. I don’t think it is productive to take it as a personal issue.”
Mr. Amano said he believed he has developed good working relations with other Iranian officials, including the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davadi, and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. Mr. Abbasi, who survived an assassination attempt last year, is leading discussions with the U.N. agency.
“I didn’t have any difficulties,” Mr. Amano said. “We could speak [in a] very friendly” manner.
Mr. Amano also said the international community needed to stay focused on North Korea as a nuclear threat, as Pyongyang already has nuclear weapons and has been developing a uranium-enrichment program. He said he hoped global powers can shortly resume disarmament talks with Kim Jong Il’s government so that the U.N. agency can return inspectors to the isolated country. “North Korean issue is as important as Iran,” he said. “In one sense, the situation is worse.”
Mr. Amano succeeded at the U.N. agency the Egyptian diplomat and politician, Mohamed ElBaradei, who won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for helping curtail nuclear energy’s military uses. But the Japanese bureaucrat, who comes from the only country ever attacked with nuclear arms, has gained a reputation for taking a tougher line than his predecessor, particularly in the cases of Iran and Syria’s alleged nuclear activities.
Earlier this year, Mr. Amano put out a report bluntly stating that the agency believed President Bashar al-Assad’s government had secretly been constructing a nuclear reactor before Israeli jets destroyed the facility in 2007. Syria has repeatedly denied the charge.
In Vienna last week, the agency gathered representatives from the Middle East for sessions to discuss the possibility of a nuclear-weapons-free zone, a session Mr. Amano described as “meaningful,” though Iran boycotted the conference.
Diplomats involved in the talks said there was no breakthrough but that the discussions were constructive. Egypt, Syria and Israel—believed to be the only Mideast country with nuclear weapons—were among the countries that attended.
“For over ten years we could not have this forum,” Mr. Amano said. “The stakeholders’ getting together after 10 years has in itself a meaning,” he said.
Under Mr. Amano, the atomic agency faced criticism following a March earthquake and ensuing tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in his native Japan.
The agency is often constrained in responding to accidents because it depends upon member states to make requests, agency officials said. But Mr. Amano acknowledged his agency needs to do more to explain to the world the threats posed by such disasters and how they will be addressed.
“Our role it to give advice to governments….All of a sudden, we were exposed to the huge mass, and we needed to explain complicated things in a very simple manner,” Mr. Amano said. “In this, I can not compete with the media. We need much improvement.”
Germany, Switzerland and Belgium all announced that they were reducing their reliance on nuclear energy following the Fukushima accident. And China said it was delaying new construction of reactors pending a comprehensive review of its safety measures
Over the next year, Mr. Amano said among his primary missions will be to restore public trust in the use of nuclear power. He said international interest in pursuing nuclear power remains robust.
The agency expects there will be between 90 to over 300 new reactor complexes constructed by 2030. And countries like the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Vietnam and Turkey are all moving forward with nuclear-power programs. He said the need for electricity, coupled with a desire for clean energy, makes nuclear power essential.
“Without nuclear, it is very hard to achieve those objective,” Mr. Amano said. “This is the reason why what happened after Chernobyl hasn’t happened this time.”