VIENNA Malaysia has dismissed its envoy to the U.N. 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.
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 program.
Malaysian Ambassador Mohd Arshad Manzoor Hussain, a 35-year diplomatic veteran, told Reuters he had been dismissed by his government after being recalled to Kuala Lumpur following the November 27 vote and several weeks of consultations.
Diplomats said the Malaysian government acted after the United States expressed concern to it over the envoy's vote.
The Malaysian Foreign Ministry said in December that Hussain 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 as I had hoped my government would renew my contract to enable me to complete my mandate as chairman," Hussain said in Vienna, where he had returned to await his government's decision. "This has not happened and I just have to accept it as my fate."
The IAEA board will hold a one-day meeting on Friday to appoint a successor, identified in a confidential memo obtained by Reuters as Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob, previously Malaysia's ambassador in Qatar.
BREAKDOWN IN COMMUNICATION?
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, Hussain was surprised to see NAM members Egypt, Pakistan and South Africa abstain, and India vote "yes." Hussain had no time to double check policy with his capital, and so voted against as originally planned, the diplomat told Reuters.
He said Malaysian diplomats who attended NAM strategy talks before the vote in Hussain's stead because he was busy with other duties as board chair briefed him that sentiment in the group against censuring Iran was widespread.
But another diplomat familiar with the issue said NAM states reached no consensus on how to deal with the resolution so the varying votes on the floor should not have been a surprise.
The other opposing votes were cast by Cuba and Venezuela, both U.S. foes unlike Malaysia. All Western board members, joined unusually by Russia and China, voted in favor.
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.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)