09 February 2010

Malaysia sacks IAEA envoy after Iran nuclear vote

VIENNA, Feb 9 — Malaysia has fired its ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog for voting against a resolution rebuking Iran and he will be replaced as rotating head of the agency’s governing body later this week, officials said.

The rare removal of a senior serving diplomat on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors underlined the volatile politics and high stakes in policymaking involving Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.

Mohd Arshad Manzoor Hussain, a 35-year diplomatic veteran, told Reuters he had been sacked by his government after being recalled to Kuala Lumpur following the Nov 27 vote and several weeks of consultations.

The Malaysian Foreign Ministry said in December that Arshad disregarded orders by voting “no” to a resolution passed by a 25-3 margin with six abstentions to censure Iran for building a second uranium enrichment plant in secret.

“I am very disappointed at this development (to sack me) as I had hoped my government would renew my contract to enable me to complete my mandate as chairman,” Arshad said in Vienna, where he had returned to await his capital’s decision. “This has not happened and I just have to accept it as my fate.”

The IAEA board will hold a special one-day meeting on Friday to appoint a successor, identified in a confidential memo obtained by Reuters as Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob, previously Kuala Lumpur’s ambassador in Qatar.

A senior diplomat close to the matter said Malaysia’s IAEA mission had been instructed to vote in line with the position of the Non-Aligned Movement of developing nations, which has historically opposed Western-driven international actions to isolate Iran, a fellow member of NAM.

Iran denies Western suspicions that it secretly seeks nuclear weapons and NAM has stood up for Iran’s proclaimed right to develop a sovereign civilian nuclear power industry.

When the vote was held, the diplomat said, Arshad was surprised to see NAM members Egypt, Pakistan and South Africa abstain, and India vote “yes”.

Arshad had no time to double-check policy with his capital, and so voted against as originally instructed, the diplomat told Reuters.

The other opposing votes were cast by Cuba and Venezuela, both US foes, unlike Malaysia. All Western board members, joined unusually by Russia and China, voted in favour.

Vienna diplomats said the overwhelming passage of the resolution suggested major developing states were souring on Iran over its nuclear secrecy and defiance of calls to open up to IAEA inspections. — Reuters

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