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U.N. nuclear watchdog appoints Romanian diplomat Feruta as interim chief

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VIENNA (Reuters) – Romanian diplomat Cornel Feruta will head the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) until member states agree on a permanent successor to deceased Director General Yukiya Amano, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said on Thursday.

The IAEA announced on Monday that Amano had died, leaving the agency with a leadership vacuum at a time of rising tensions between Iran and the West following Washington’s decision last year to quit a 2015 international deal that curbed Tehran’s nuclear programme in return for an easing of economic sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump has reimposed sanctions on Iran and the fate of the landmark deal, which the IAEA has been overseeing, is unclear.

“The Board of Governors has decided to designate Mr Cornel Feruta as acting Director General until a Director General assumes office,” the IAEA said on Thursday.

However, the political backdrop means that negotiations on who will become permanent IAEA chief are likely to be difficult. The Director General is appointed by the agency’s 35-nation board of governors for four years.

The candidate must be approved by the General Conference. Its regular annual meeting will be held September 16-20.

The U.N. agency did not lay out a timeframe for naming a permanent successor to Amano.

Feruta, the agency’s chief coordinator who was effectively Amano’s chief of staff, has been mentioned by diplomats as a likely candidate for the top job.

He has supported the Iran deal in the past, saying last year that the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had improved access to Iran significantly.

Another potential candidate is Argentina’s ambassador to the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, though others could enter the fray.

While each candidate will have his or her own management style, it is widely expected that there will be no major change in the agency’s handling of its most high-profile issues, including Iran and a potential return to North Korea, which expelled IAEA inspectors in 2009.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by David Goodman)

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