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WORLD | 09-08-2019 10:34

Iran offered lesson by Argentine bid to head nuclear agency

Nuclear expert Rafael Mariano Grossi says inspectors monitoring Iran’s nuclear deal could benefit from more openness and suggested his country’s nuclear programme holds a lesson for Tehran's leaders.

Argentine diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi says inspectors monitoring Iran’s nuclear deal could benefit from more openness and suggested his country’s nuclear programme holds a lesson for Tehran's leaders.

As a top candidate to head the International Atomic Energy Agency, Grossi, 58, faces the prospect of walking the tightrope between keeping tabs on Iran and other crises while steering the nominally technical agency through geopolitics.

If elected by member nations, he’s likely to face US and Israeli pressure to open a new investigation based on documents and nuclear material allegedly discovered in a warehouse in Tehran. US President Donald Trump accused Iran last month of “secretly” enriching uranium, something international inspectors haven’t reported.

“Uncertainty arises from silence,” Grossi said in an interview, explaining his view that IAEA safeguards inspectors should communicate more clearly. He pledged “firm but fair” monitoring and a “constant dialogue” with member governments.

The agency is in transition after Director General Yukiya Amano died in July, just weeks after inspectors said Iran surpassed limits on its enriched-uranium stockpile set in a 2015 agreement. European governments, Russia and China are seeking to salvage the deal after Trump withdrew the US in 2018.

The next director will wade into some of the thorniest terrain in global relations. The IAEA won a Nobel Peace Prize for debunking false intelligence that led up to the 2003 war in Iraq. Later, it was thrust into disputes in Syria and North Korea as well as international concern over nuclear safety after the Fukushima reactor meltdowns in Japan in 2011.

For its part, Argentina has spent decades building a nuclear industry even as boom-and-bust cycles roiled its economy, triggering a record US$56-billion bailout by the International Monetary Fund. That has included supplying Iran’s research reactor with nuclear fuel and training Iranian scientists in what Grossi called a close but complex relationship.

“Playing by the rules has enabled our industry’s development,” Grossi said. “We’ve proven you can be a middle-sized nation with nuclear power and returns on technology research.”

Grossi, Argentina’s ambassador to the IAEA, was Amano’s deputy at the height of the Iran investigation, traveling to Tehran as part of a team that published a report in November 2011 that detailed Iran’s past nuclear-military activities.

His candidacy has won backing from Brazil, a Latin American ally and member of the agency’s board of governors. A new director general is expected to be named by October. Other contenders, probably including acting director Cornel Feruta, are expected to join the race in early September.

Malvinas effect

How Argentina came to do nuclear business with Iran is a story tied to the tides of geopolitics.

Argentina’s nuclear programme languished from a lack of funding under military dictators in the 1970s and 1980s. When the junta fell and democratic rule took hold in the wake of Argentina’s defeat in the Malvinas (Falklands) War, its scientists focused on developing expertise in research reactors and fuel, rather than immediately building up industrial-scale uranium enrichment.

Other clients of state-run INVAP SE include Australia, India, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia. The Bariloche-based conglomerate has used its position as a maker of research reactors and nuclear technology to expand into aerospace and defense. Its 1,400 employees generated orders worth US$918 million, according to the latest annual report.

Argentina’s decision to turn its nuclear program over to professionals in its National Atomic Energy Commission helped insulate it against “its often turbulent politics,” Jacques Hymans, a University of Southern California professor who has studied the history, said by email.

“Argentina’s nuclear program became not just a domestic success, but an international one as well,” Hymans said.

by Jonathan Tirone

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