ElBaradei 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
While Israel has taken no formal stand regarding who it would like to see win out as successor to Mohamed ElBaradei as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, government sources in Jerusalem seem to prefer the Japanese candidate, Yukiya Amano, rather than South African candidate Abdul Samad Minty.
The 35 board-member nations of the International Atomic Energy Agency failed to elect a new agency chief in their first rounds of voting on Thursday, when neither Amano nor Minty, secured the two-thirds majority needed to be elected IAEA director-general.
The next voting round will occur on Friday, due to Thursday's inconclusive results.
The race is important because ElBaradei's successor will influence how the world meets the nuclear challenges posed by extremists like Iran and Syria who are thought to be looking for the bomb. Nonproliferation is the IAEA's most high-profile task.
ElBaradei, with whom Israel has had a rocky relationship, is stepping down after a 12-year tenure.
Amano has attracted most of the Western support, and Minty has garnered the backing from developing countries.
Government sources in Israel said that while Amano and Minty have equivalent technical expertise for the job, South Africa's relationship with Iran is very problematic from an Israeli perspective.
For instance, in 2006, when the IAEA finally decided to report Iran to the UN Security Council, South Africa was one of five countries, alongside Libya, Algeria, Indonesia and Belarus, that abstained. Only Cuba, Syria and Venezuela voted against.
At the time, South Africa was considered among the most reticent, among non- Arab or Muslim countries, to join in international condemnations of Iran.
The reasons given for the degree of coziness between Iran and South Africa include historical and business relationships. Iran was a big backer of the African National Congress during its fight against apartheid and Iran provides South Africa with cheap oil.
While the sources said they did not think Minty wanted to see Iran with a bomb, there was concern that he maintained a strong, consolidated Third World view of disarmament and non-proliferation that ran contrary to Israel's interests.
The US is also officially mum on its preference for the new IAEA head, but it is widely believed to also favor Amanos.
After years of rocky relations with outgoing chief ElBaradei of Egypt, the US would like to see a smoother interaction and a leader agreeing with the latter's overriding goal of keeping Iran from going nuclear.
US officials on several occasions criticized ElBaradei for going easy on Iran and undercutting UN sanctions against Teheran by forging his own deals with Iran that circumvented the UN Security Council.
At the same time, the US is changing its posture towards the Islamic Republic, stressing that it wants to engage with Iran, particularly in multilateral frameworks.
The US made sure to invite Iran to a UN-sponsored meeting next week in the Netherlands on Afghanistan and its neighbors, with reports indicating that Iran plans to come.
Still, US State Department officials ruled out "substantive meetings" between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iranian representatives during the meeting.
The State Department's Acting Deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid stressed Thursday that American officials would discuss Afghanistan with their counterparts as part of group sessions on that subject, but that other subjects wouldn't be addressed.
"We welcome an Iranian participation in the conference in The Hague," he said. "It is a welcome move, because we do want this conference to be a regional conference."
Hilary Krieger and AP contributed to this report.