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Candidates for IAEA Director-General post acknowledge India’s nuclear capabilities

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on October 03, 2019 Published on October 03, 2019

Two of the four candidates contesting for the post of Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whom Business Line spoke to, spoke highly of India’s capabilities in the peaceful use of nuclear technologies.

Responding to a viewpoint that India’s nuclear prowess has not been acknowledged enough by the agency in the past, Rafael Grossi, currently Argentina’s Ambassador to Austria, noted that India has “a reservoir of talent, a reservoir of R&D which will be extremely useful for other countries”.

On the same point, Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso, who currently heads the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) as its Executive Secretary, also acknowledged India’s capabilities in many fields including nuclear. “Coming from a developing country, I’m for promoting (technologies from) the developing world,” Zerbo said, adding that such countries should be given opportunities to “showcase their technical capabilities so that we compete fairly with others.”

These views of Grossi and Zerbo assume significance in the context of the feeling among experts in India that the agency, under Director General Yukia Amano, who died in July, and under the incumbent Acting DG, Cornel Feruta, India’s capabilities have not received enough support. Feruta, a Romanian, is incidentally another candidate for the top post. (The fourth candidate is Marta Ziakova of Slovakia.)

Indigenous technologies

For instance, it is believed that the agency could have assisted India in taking its indigenous technologies developed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, such as Bharat Kavach, a carbon nanotube-based bullet proof jacket, and Bhabhatron, a cobalt therapy machine for treating cancer, to other countries. The agency, under pressure from the developed West, has not done enough in this area — at least, this is the perception in India.

Both Grossi and Zerbo, who spoke to BusinessLine on phone, stressed that they themselves are from developing countries. Grossi said he intends to be “extremely active with countries like India”. Zerbo noted that he had always backed developing countries in the CTBTO, adding: “I’m sure that the agency (IAEA) has room for that.”

Clued-in candidate

Asked why he thought he was best suited for the DG post, Zerbo said the IAEA needs “somebody who is clued into the global architecture of non-proliferation” and understands the technical challenges. He said he would make sure that countries like India got their due place in the agency.

Responding to the same question, Grossi observed that in today’s global situation, which is getting to be “far more complicated” than when IAEA was created, the world needs a “strong, reliable, credible, impartial IAEA” which is led with “determination and conviction”.

“I think I can provide that kind of leadership,” said Gross, who has been closely associated with IAEA for many years and has been the Chairman of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

On India joining the NSG, both Grossi and Zerbo said that while it is not up to the DG to take a stand, they would facilitate consultations.

Funding plans

On funding for the agency, Grossi observed: “The mission is growing, but resources are not.” The agency (which has a budget of €592 million for the current year) would need to think creatively, he added.

Grossi has been advocating raising funds from the private sector and pitching for public-private partnerships, which the agency has never done before out of a fear of conflict of interest. However, Grossi shows a precedent — the Global Compact of the UN, which is a voluntary initiative to implement the UN’s sustainability goals. The initiative earlier accepted voluntary contributions from business, but now “requires” annual contributions from participating businesses.

On the same point, Zerbo was more cautious than Grossi, saying that he saw partnering with the private sector happening more in standard-setting until such time as the members of the agency formed rules and regulations for collecting funds from the private sector.

The elections to the DG post, which will happen this month, are crucial in the context of tensions between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan and between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with countries like Israel and China looking on.

US-backed Grossi is said to be the favourite for the post, but the international media have said that Zerbo, with support from African and many G-77 countries, could be a “curveball”.

Published on October 03, 2019