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Bush Nominates Former Sen. Danforth to Replace Negroponte at U.N.

White House seeks to mend relations with the world body. Swift confirmation is likely.

June 05, 2004|Mary Curtius | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Friday nominated John C. Danforth, a former senator from Missouri who is respected by Republicans and Democrats, to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

If confirmed by the Senate, Danforth, 67, will replace John D. Negroponte, recently confirmed as the first U.S. ambassador to postwar Iraq.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) welcomed the announcement.

"Chairman Lugar is committed to a quick confirmation process for Danforth, a highly respected former colleague," said Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Lugar. Senate Democrats contacted Friday also predicted that Danforth would easily win confirmation.

The nomination of the former Republican senator comes as the Bush administration rebuilds relations with the U.N. after its decision last year to wage war on Iraq without winning specific authorization from the Security Council.

Faced with a bloody insurgency and growing disillusionment among Iraqis, the administration recently began ceding some control over rebuilding to the U.N. Next week, the administration hopes to win Security Council passage of a resolution recognizing the interim Iraqi government and calling on members to support U.S. reconstruction efforts.

Danforth first ventured onto the diplomatic stage in 2001, when Bush plucked him from his law practice in St. Louis and named him special envoy to war-ravaged Sudan just days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Danforth helped bring the Sudanese government into cease-fire talks with southern rebels and brokered a peace agreement that is close to completion.

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House, a conservative religious group, said she initially had doubts about Danforth.

"He wasn't an area specialist, he didn't know Sudan and I thought there would be a long learning curve," Shea said. "But very quickly we realized that he had made a difference. It was clear within a few months that he had somehow convinced the Sudanese government that he wasn't going to fool around, he didn't want to drag out the talks and he wanted a cease-fire."

William H. Luers, president of the United Nations Assn., said Danforth, if confirmed, "comes into this United Nations at a time when it has been going through one of the most stressful, trying and difficult phases of its entire history." The rift between the United States and others on the Security Council -- including permanent members France, China and Russia -- that opposed the war in Iraq caused great damage to the international institution, Luers said.

"Now the United States has to figure out how it manages the relationship of our power to Iraqi power and to the international community," he said. The Iraqis want sovereignty and much of the world wants them to have it, he added, but the United States "can't just cut and run."

Danforth, Luers said, will be hampered by his lack of knowledge of the U.N. as an institution but aided by his warm relationship with Bush.

Considered a moderate Republican during his 18 years in the Senate, Danforth was nicknamed "St. Jack" by his colleagues because he is an ordained Episcopalian minister. His grandfather William founded Ralston Purina Co., and his family is one of the wealthiest in St. Louis.

After graduating from Princeton, Danforth earned degrees in divinity and law from Yale and served as attorney general of Missouri from 1969 to 1976, when he was elected to the Senate. He served three terms before retiring in 1994.

He had his most controversial episode as a senator in 1991, when he led the fight to confirm Clarence Thomas as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Thomas had worked for Danforth in the state attorney general's office. In his book on the experience, Danforth recounted that he had led Thomas and the two men's wives in prayer in his Senate bathroom on the morning of Oct. 11, 1991, during confirmation hearings that included Anita Hill's accusations that Thomas had sexually harassed her.

Danforth turned on a tape recorder and led the group in prayer. "The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang," he wrote. "We reached out to each other and held hands as we listened: 'Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.' I looked at Clarence. His eyes were closed, his head bowed; his foot beat time to the music."

In 1999, President Clinton asked Danforth to oversee a reexamination of the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas. Danforth was asked to investigate why FBI agents had falsely denied that they had used flammable munitions during the final hours of the confrontation.

In his 2000 report, Danforth exonerated the FBI of charges that it had started the fire at the compound in which many cult members died.

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