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U.N. nuclear watchdog seeks fast choice of new head

VIENNA (Reuters) - The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog wants to appoint a new director general in October, shortening its selection process at a time of dangerous geopolitical frictions between Iran and the West.

A flag with the logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flutters in front of their headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano died last month, requiring a new leader at a time of global anxiety over the implications of last year’s U.S. pullout of a 2015 deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme.

The 35-nation board of governors last week named Romanian diplomat Cornel Feruta to head the agency temporarily.

Applications for the permanent post must be in by Sept. 5, the IAEA said on Thursday.

“The Board expects to appoint a Director General in October 2019 and, in any case, envisages that the person appointed will assume office no later than 1 January 2020,” it said.

That is an ambitious schedule for the 171-nation agency, which normally needs several months to agree on a candidate.

It reflects the urgency for stability at the helm of the IAEA at a time when President Donald Trump has reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran, and the fate of the 2015 deal, which the U.N. body has been overseeing, is unclear.

Russia’s Vienna-based diplomatic mission to international organisations tweeted that the modified procedure reflected “extraordinary circumstances and should not be considered a precedent.”

Some diplomats see Argentina’s ambassador to the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, as a likely new director general and he confirmed on Wednesday he would run for the job.

The board’s candidate for the four-year post must be approved by the IAEA’s general conference, which next meets from September 16-20.

Japanese diplomat Amano, who died aged 72 and had been expected to step down early because of illness, had held the position since 2009, through a period of intense diplomacy over Iran and a vain push for the IAEA to return to North Korea.

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Writing by Tassilo Hummel; Editing by David Goodman and Andrew Cawthorne