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As Hearings on U.N. Envoy Near, He Sways a Critic

July 22, 2006|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced Friday that it will hold hearings next week on the renomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations.

A yearlong lobbying effort by Bolton has converted his most vocal opponent, Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), into a key supporter.

"Should the president send his renomination to the Senate, I will vote to confirm him," Voinovich wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Thursday, urging his Democratic colleagues to support Bolton.

"I do not believe the United States, at this dangerous time, can afford to have a U.N. ambassador who does not have Congress' full support."

Voinovich, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, blocked Bolton's confirmation a year ago, calling him "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be."

President Bush appointed Bolton to the post anyway during a congressional recess. But at the end of this year Bolton's term is up -- as is the congressional session -- and Senate rules stipulate that anyone who gets a second recess appointment may not receive a government salary.

On Thursday, the Senate committee will decide whether to send Bolton's nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

Although Bolton is "not perfect," Voinovich said, the ambassador has demonstrated his ability to work well with other nations' envoys. Voinovich also said it was in America's interest to keep Bolton at the U.N. when Washington was dealing with threats of terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

"For me or my colleagues in the Senate to now question a possible renomination would jeopardize our influence in the United Nations and encourage those who oppose the United States to make Bolton the issue, thereby undermining our policies and agenda," Voinovich said.

But senior Foreign Relations Committee Democrat Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware said the Senate should not vote on Bolton unless the White House agreed to turn over documents related to the National Security Agency's secret eavesdropping program, which were given to Bolton.

Committee Democrats had sought the files -- thought to include the names of U.S. officials whose conversations were intercepted -- during Bolton's confirmation battle last year.

"Mr. Bolton's performance at the U.N. also confirms my conviction that he is the wrong person for this job," Biden said Thursday. "Unless the administration provides the Senate with the documents it is entitled to see, Mr. Bolton should not get a vote."

Bolton said he and Voinovich had been in frequent contact since the senator called after Bolton's appointment and proposed they work together on U.N. reform.

"He came to this conclusion on his own, but I have to say I am very happy about it," Bolton said of Voinovich's support.

Bolton has been a polarizing figure at the United Nations since he arrived in August.

While most ambassadors were on vacation, Bolton set to work rewriting a draft U.N. reform document that world leaders were set to adopt at a summit in September. The result was a diplomatic crisis that caused many to question whether the effort had cost the U.S. more than it was worth, especially after Bush restored a crucial agreement on development goals that Bolton had worked to keep out.

The ambassador has won respect from some for his deep knowledge of the U.N. system and has garnered resentment from others for the way he has used the bureaucracy to further U.S. goals.

But diplomats have learned that when Bolton throws up a roadblock, they can sometimes go around it, directly to the State Department, to find more amenable counterparts.

"We always check with Washington," said a Security Council diplomat who requested anonymity when discussing internal U.N. matters, adding: "Often there are important nuances that get lost between there and here."

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