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The IAEA: in America's corner on Iran.

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.)