VIENNA – The secretary-general of the United Nations joined other global leaders in praising Yukiya Amano, the late chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency who for a decade led the agency and was extensively involved in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and the cleanup of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered condolences after the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency on Monday announced the death of Amano at age 72.
Guterres said Amano “worked tirelessly to ensure that nuclear energy is used only for peaceful purposes.”
He added: “Mr. Amano confronted serious global challenges, including those related to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, with equanimity and determination. Our world is so much better for it.”
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi commended Amano for his “skillful and professional performance” as head of the IAEA.
“May the Almighty bless his soul,” Araghchi wrote on Twitter.
Amano, who had wide experience in disarmament, nonproliferation diplomacy and nuclear energy issues, had been chief of the key U.N. agency that regulates nuclear use worldwide since 2009.
The news of his death comes at a time of increasing concerns and escalating tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, after U.S. President Donald Trump left a 2015 deal with world powers that restricted Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. Amano was heavily involved in the yearslong negotiations that led to the landmark Iran nuclear deal.
John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said in a statement that Amano’s “commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and his championing of peaceful nuclear energy have been unparalleled in leading the International Atomic Energy Agency for almost a decade … He will be sorely missed.”
There was reaction, too, from Japan. Foreign Minister Taro Kono hailed Amano’s contribution to the international nuclear regulatory regime.
“The government of Japan expresses its utmost respect for Director General Amano’s leadership and contributions in life. I offer my sincere condolences to his family and offer my prayers.”
As head of the IAEA, Amano also dealt with the aftermath of the devastating 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, where three reactors went into meltdowns after a tsunami.
U.N. General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa hailed Amano as a “gender champion” who increased the share of female staff members at IAEA from 23 percent to 30 percent.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent Amano’s wife, Yukika, a message expressing his condolences.
“I personally met with Yukiya Amano many times and always admired his wisdom and foresight, and his ability to make carefully weighed decisions during some of the most complicated circumstances,” the Russian government quoted the message as saying.
The IAEA said Amano died Thursday but his family had asked the agency not disclose his death until a family funeral had taken place Monday. It did not give a cause of death for Amano or say where he died.
The IAEA said Mary Alice Hayward, the agency’s deputy director general and head of the department of management, would lead the agency in the interim. The IAEA flag was lowered to half-staff in tribute.
The agency said Amano was planning to write soon to its board of governors announcing his decision to step down. It released part of that letter, in which Amano praised the agency for delivering “concrete results to achieve the objective of ‘Atoms for Peace and Development.'” Amano added that he was “very proud of our achievements and grateful” to IAEA member states and agency staff.
Amano’s death will be a strong blow for the nuclear agency, said Adnan Tabatabai, an expert with the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient in Bonn, Germany.
“While I am convinced that the IAEA as an institution will be able to continue its work dedicated to nuclear nonproliferation, the loss of a personality like Yukiya Amano, who had embodied this dedication, will add to an already highly delicate and complex situation with regards to the nuclear agreement with Iran,” he said.
Tabatabai suggested that opponents of the Iran nuclear agreement would “try to seize this opportunity to further weaken the position of the IAEA.”
“It is therefore of upmost importance that … (Amano’s successor) comes out in strong support” of the Iran nuclear deal, he said.
Germany’s Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, said Amano “made the IAEA stronger.”
Maas said the agency’s inspection of the Iran nuclear deal was an example of Amano’s “biggest-possible dedication, professionalism and independence.” Germany is one of the nations that signed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and is now trying to salvage it.
Jackie Wolcott, the U.S. ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, said Amano “was greatly respected as an effective leader, diplomat, and true gentleman by the entire staff of the U.S. Mission” and other U.S. diplomats.
The Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., which ran the Fukushima nuclear plant, also praised the diplomat, saying it “received so much support and guidance on the decommissioning efforts” at the power plant from him.
Amano was Japan’s representative to the IAEA from 2005 until his election as director general in July 2009, including a stint as chair of its board of governors from 2005-2006.
Before he became IAEA chief, Amano contributed to the 1995, 2000 and 2005 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conferences and chaired the 2007 preparatory committee for the 2010 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
A graduate of the Tokyo University Faculty of Law, Amano joined the Foreign Ministry in 1972 and was posted to jobs in Belgium, France, Laos, Switzerland and the United States. At the ministry, Amano was chief of the Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Science Department from 2002 until 2005.
He also previously served as an expert on the U.N. panel on missiles and on the U.N. expert group on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education.
He is survived by his wife, Yukika.