Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Israel: Can the UN’s New Top Cop Curb the World’s Nuclear Cheats?

The world has a new top nuclear cop.

On October 29th, Argentinian diplomat Rafael Grossi was elected chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Grossi replaced Japan’s Yukia Amano, who died last July while in office, after almost 10 years in the job.

It is a tough time to head the global agency charged with stopping the proliferation of the world’s deadliest weapons. From North Korea to India and Pakistan – the sisyphean task of stopping nuclear weapons proliferation remains a tough job. Just last week, Iran announced it will breach additional terms of the nuclear deal negotiated by Obama and abrogated by Trump.

A main tenet of the nuclear deal was enhanced placement of IAEA inspectors in key locations in Iran’s nuclear sites. For nearly four years the IAEA’s experts toured Iran’s nuclear sites and reported back everything they saw.

Incoming director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Argentina’s Mariano Grossi, speaks to the press in Vienna, Austria. October 02, 2019 AFP

How will Grossi react if Iran decides to serially limit his inspectors' freedom of access? What will he do if they are delayed from entering Iran or even expelled? What would he do if Saudi Arabia or Turkey make good on their promises to counter Iran with nuclear progress of their own – all under the guise of an energy program? 

The early signs are that he will take office with an assertive non-proliferation agenda. He positioned himself as the reform candidate in the campaign for the post. Unlike his rivals, Grossi addressed the Iranian nuclear program directly, calling for a "firm but fair" approach. 

These signs suggest that Iran is unlikely to find an ally in Grossi, which is why the Trump administration supported his bid. The U.S. energy secretary called him the "perfect candidate."