U.N. nuclear watchdog chief says will seek a third term

September 19, 2016 11:02 AM EDT

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano smiles as he waits for a board of governors meeting to begin at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

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By Francois Murphy and Shadia Nasralla

VIENNA (Reuters) - The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed on Monday he would seek a third term, stressing the threat posed by North Korea and the role his inspectors could play in any diplomatic deal with Pyongyang.

Yukiya Amano, a 69-year-old career diplomat from Japan, has emphasized that the work of the IAEA - the United Nations nuclear watchdog - is technical, a reference to the more political style of his predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei.

He was first elected as director general in 2009 with the support of Western powers such as the United States, which had clashed with ElBaradei over Iran's nuclear program. ElBaradei and the IAEA were awarded the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

"A number of countries encouraged me to continue to serve as the director general beyond 2017," Amano told a news conference during a quarterly meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors, without specifying which countries.

His second four-year term runs until the end of November next year.

The IAEA is policing the restrictions placed on Iran's nuclear activities under a deal between Tehran and six major powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - which also lifted sanctions against Iran.

While there is no sign those powers oppose a third term for Amano, some diplomats from that group of countries have expressed frustration over what they see as a lack of detail in the IAEA's quarterly reports on Iran's compliance with the deal.

Amano is expected to be challenged by an Argentine diplomat, Rafael Grossi, who has chaired the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a club of countries that seeks to prevent nuclear proliferation by restricting exports of sensitive technology.

Grossi was not immediately available for comment.

Amano's tenure has been marked by the deal between major powers and Iran, reached last year, and by repeated nuclear tests by North Korea, a country that IAEA inspectors have been unable to visit since before Amano's election in 2009.

Asked why he wanted a third term, Amano highlighted the Iran deal and North Korea, which he said was "very worrying" and "is a threat to the security of northeast Asia and beyond".

"All of this combined means the IAEA is facing huge challenges in the coming years. In order to cope, address these challenges, continuity and unity is very important," he told reporters.

The IAEA could also quickly provide inspectors if needed to support any political agreement with North Korea, he said.

"The IAEA can play an essential role in the peaceful resolution of (the) North Korea nuclear issue," he said.

(Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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