* IAEA chief has taken “firm” line towards Iran
* Criticised over initial response to Fukushima disaster
* U.N. agency led efforts on nuclear safety “action plan”
* Diplomats expect new term for veteran Japanese diplomat
VIENNA, Sept 26 (Reuters) - United Nations nuclear agency chief Yukiya Amano, a major figure in international diplomacy on Iran’s disputed nuclear activity, will seek another four-year term in 2013, the Vienna-based watchdog said on Wednesday.
Western diplomats said they expect Amano, who has taken a tougher approach on the Iran nuclear file than his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei, to be reappointed without problems, in contrast to his close election victory in 2009.
“I don’t expect anyone will challenge him,” one European diplomat said, adding that Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat, has been “very firm” on Iran.
The 35-nation governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which will decide the issue by June next year, on Monday set a Dec. 31 deadline for the nomination of candidates. So far, Amano is the only confirmed candidate.
“The DG (Director General Amano) has announced that he is available for another term,” the IAEA press office said in an e-mail on Wednesday.
Under Amano, the IAEA was criticised last year for a perceived slow initial response to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, even though it later led international efforts to agree an “action plan” to improve global reactor safety.
Another Western diplomat said Amano had also taken steps to make the U.N. agency’s activities more efficient.
IAEA relations with Iran have become increasingly strained during Amano’s time in office. On Sunday, a senior Iranian lawmaker accused the IAEA of passing confidential details of Iran’s atomic work to Israel.
However, Western diplomats - who dismiss such allegations - are generally happy with the way Amano has stepped up pressure on Iran to make it stop stonewalling an agency investigation into suspected atom bomb research, even if that push has yet to bear fruit. Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons.
In 2009, supported largely by industrialised nations, Amano defeated South Africa’s Abdul Samad Minty in a sixth round of balloting after five inconclusive votes.