The IAEA are in America's corner on Iran, says Mehdi Hasan

Don't believe me? Ask the Americans.

There was a time when I had a lot of admiration for the work of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Its Nobel-prize-winning chief, Mohammed ElBaradei, stood up to the Bush administration over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the 2003 invasion in 2003 - and was vindicated by the subsequent, post-war failure to find WMDs in the country. He also had the guts to resist US pressure on Iran; prior to his resignation from the agency in 2009, he bluntly described the threat from a nuclear Iran as "hyped".

His replacement as director-general of the IAEA, however, isn't as independent-minded or strong-willed as ElBaradei - especially on the contentious and politicized issue of Iran's nuclear programme. How do we know this? How else? WikiLeaks.

According to an October 2009 US state department cable released by the whistleblowing organisation late last year, Yukiya Amano, the Japanese diplomat who took over at the IAEA in July of 2009, seemed ultra-keen to show his loyalty to the United States from the very start of his term:

Amano reminded [the] ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the developing countries group], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program.

"Solidly in the US court"? Er. . .

The same US cable described Amano as:

DG of All States, But in Agreement with Us

In another 2009 US state department cable, released by WikiLeaks and examined by Iran expert, Professor Juan Cole, on his blog, the then British foreign secretary David Miliband

spoke of putting some 'steel' in Amano's spine. Ellen Tauscher, the US under secretary for arms control and international security affairs, said that the US and the UK must work to make Amano a 'success'.

Let's be honest, it doesn't fill you with much confidence in the Amano or the IAEA, does it?

(Oh, and for more details on the exaggerated threat from Iran's nuclear programme, see my column in this week's magazine. Out on the newsstands tomorrow.)

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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