Incoming IAEA Chief: No Evidence Iran Seeking Nuclear Weapons

Japan's Yukiya Amano picked to succeed current UN nuclear watchdog director Mohammed ElBaradei.

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The incoming head of the United Nation's nuclear watchdog said on Friday he did not see any hard evidence that Iran was trying to gain the ability to develop nuclear weapons.

"I don't see any evidence in IAEA official documents about this," Japan's Yukiya Amano told Reuters in his first direct comment on Iran's nuclear program since his election to head the International Atomic Energy Agency, when asked whether he believed Iran was seeking a nuclear weapons capability.

Current IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei told the BBC last month it was his "gut feeling" that Iran was seeking the ability to produce nuclear arms, if it desired, as an "insurance policy" against perceived threats from neighboring countries or the United States.

"I'm not going to be a 'soft' director general or a 'tough' director general," Amano told Reuters, when asked how he would approach issues like Iran and Syria, which are both subject to IAEA probes.

Earlier Friday, IAEA members unanimously designated Amano as the organization's next director general, ending a rift between developing and industrialized countries over his nomination.

With the official confirmation of his election on Thursday, the Japanese diplomat is now set to assume his post in December, succeeding Mohammed ElBaradei, who retires as director general after 12 years in office.

Amano, Japan's ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, narrowly won a run-off vote against South African diplomat Abdul Samad Minty.

Developing countries backing Minty had for several months blocked Amano's election.

But on Friday, developing countries grouped in the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 issued statements expressing their support for Amano, 62, who is seen as closely aligned with the United States.

Minty congratulated Amano, and offered his country's support, saying that "our future objective is to assist in fostering a cooperative spirit and to focus on what unites us, namely; creating a better life for all free from the threat of the use of nuclear weapons."

Meanwhile, the Japanese government put high hopes in the next IAEA leader.

"We hope that Amano will tackle the nuclear issues in the areas of non-proliferation and disarmament," top government spokesman Takeo Kawamura said in Tokyo.

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