UN Nuclear Watchdog Chief, Yukiya Amano, is dead, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Monday in Vienna.
This happened, the day he had been expected to announce he would step down early because of an illness that had visibly weakened him over the past year.
The 72-year-old Japanese diplomat had held the position of IAEA Director-General since 2009.
He took over from Mohamed ElBaradei.
He is steering the UN agency through a period of intense diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear programme while seeking, in vain, to return to North Korea.
His death coincides with a sharp escalation of tensions between Iran and the West, following Washington’s decision in 2018 to quit a 2015 international deal that curbed Tehran’s nuclear programme in return for an easing of economic sanctions.
President Donald Trump has re-imposed U.S. sanctions on Iran, and the fate of the landmark deal, which the IAEA has been overseeing, is unclear.
“The Secretariat of IAEA regrets to inform, with the deepest sadness, of the passing away of Director-General Yukiya Amano,’’ the IAEA said in a statement.
Amano had been preparing to leave his position in March, well before the end of his third four-year term, which ran until Nov. 30, 2021.
Diplomats, who follow the agency, had said he planned to announce his decision on Monday.
The IAEA announced last September that Amano had undergone an unspecified medical procedure.
The specific nature of his illness has remained a taboo subject within the agency, diplomats said, but with each public appearance, he had appeared increasingly frail.
Mary Hayward, Deputy Director-General and Head of the Department of Management, is now the acting Director-General, he added.
Argentina’s ambassador to the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, is running to succeed Amano and diplomats say the agency’s Chief Coordinator, Cornel Feruta of Romania, effectively Amano’s Chief of Staff, is likely to run.
Others could also enter the fray.
Diplomats from IAEA member states often expressed frustration in private at not obtaining more confidential information from Amano and his staff on issues such as its policing of Iran’s nuclear deal with major powers.