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Harsh Critic of U.N. Named Ambassador

Bush's choice of State Department's John R. Bolton dismays Democrats. Backers say he's a tough envoy who can 'get things done.'

March 08, 2005|Sonni Efron | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Monday nominated State Department official John R. Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, selecting an administration loyalist who has disparaged the world body and clashed with allies over Iran and North Korea policy.

Bolton's approval seems assured by the Republican majority in the Senate. But with congressional Democrats ex- pressing dismay over his selection, the confirmation hearing may be rancorous.

In announcing Bolton's nomination, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Bolton a "tough-minded diplomat" who had developed a "proven track record for effective multilateralism" as undersecretary of State for international arms control and nonproliferation, a post he has held since 2001.

"He knows how to get things done," she said.

Bolton's supporters see him as someone who can be trusted to advance the president's agenda at the United Nations and push for reform there. Detractors of Bolton, who has been championed by Vice President Dick Cheney, have criticized him as a hawkish unilateralist and neoconservative.

Bolton acknowledged Monday that his previous criticism of the U.N. was likely to raise concerns in some quarters. Among his controversial comments was a 1994 remark referring to the size of U.N. headquarters.

"The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference," he said. And in 2000, Bolton told National Public Radio that the U.N. Security Council needed only one permanent member, the United States, "because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world."

But Bolton pledged Monday to collaborate with Congress and other nations.

"Working closely with others is essential to ensuring a safer world," he said.

Bolton's nomination took many on Capitol Hill by surprise. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who will preside over the confirmation hearing, declined to voice support for Bush's choice. Lugar wants to meet with Bolton "before discussing his support," Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher said.

Democrats criticized the choice.

"This is just about the most inexplicable appointment the president could make," said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). "If the president is serious about reaching out to the world, why would he choose someone who has expressed such disdain for working with our allies?"

A senior Democratic aide said Rice had telephoned some senators to seek their support, comparing the choice of Bolton to "Nixon going to China" -- a reference to the anti-communist president's surprise overture to Beijing in the 1970s.

Conservative Republicans and Israeli officials hailed the nomination. Many conservatives believe the U.N. needs a hard-nosed critic like Bolton to push for financial accountability.

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) said Bolton understood the U.N.'s "failings and problems" and that he would "scrutinize the actions and expenditures of the U.N." on behalf of American taxpayers.

Bolton is seen as having close ties to Israel, particularly on intelligence matters. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, during a visit to the U.N. on Monday, praised Bolton's aggressive efforts to rid Iran of its suspected nuclear weapons program and called him an "honest guy."

But diplomats from several other countries expressed disapproval. One European envoy, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the nomination could further tarnish America's image abroad. Another said Bolton would have to learn about international cooperation.

"Finally, John Bolton will have an opportunity to find out what multilateralism is all about," the second diplomat said.

When Rice took over as secretary of State last month, Bolton reportedly sought the No. 2 position in the department but was passed over in favor of former U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick. The U.N. job, which was held until January by former Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), would be a major promotion.

As the State Department's top arms control official for nearly four years, Bolton built an ad hoc coalition of more than 60 countries, known as the Proliferation Security Initiative, to intercept shipments of suspected weapons of mass destruction by land, sea or air.

However, some U.S. nonproliferation experts have publicly accused Bolton of exaggerating intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to make a case for unilateral American action against countries such as Cuba and Iraq.

Bolton has denied any misuse of intelligence. In a 2003 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he defended what he called his "zero tolerance" policy toward threats to American civilians from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of "rogue" states.

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