WASHINGTON—President Bush's nominee to be United Nations ambassador said Monday that he asked to have a State Department intelligence expert removed from his post, but denied it was because of a dispute over Cuba's biological warfare capabilities.
Undersecretary of State John Bolton, the top U.S. diplomat for arms control, said he'd "lost confidence" in the expert, Christian Westermann, because he proposed changing part of a 2002 speech that Bolton was preparing without telling him.
"I have never done anything in connection with any analyst's views," Bolton said, denying charges by Democratic senators opposed to his nomination that he wanted Westermann punished for not backing his assertion that Cuba had a biological warfare development program.
Several Democrats also said that in an interview with Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff last week, a former senior intelligence official said Bolton asked him during a July 2002 visit to CIA headquarters to transfer a senior analyst who also had disagreed with him on Cuba's biological warfare capabilities.
Democrats focused on the cases in an attempt to show that after the debacle with erroneous U.S. intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the United States couldn't afford to have a U.N. envoy tainted by charges of trying to distort intelligence.
Democrats also bore into Bolton, 56, over what they charged were other qualities that disqualified him, including statements questioning the need for the United Nations and what they charged was his lack of tact and diplomatic temperament.
"I'm surprised that the nominee wanted the job that he's been nominated for given the many negative things he said about the U.N.," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., played a videotape of a 1994 panel discussion in which Bolton said the United Nations functioned only when there was U.S. leadership and that it wouldn't matter if the top 10 floors of its 39-story headquarters in New York were cut off.
Bolton said his comments were made to a group that considered the United Nations an embryonic world government and that he was stressing that any bureaucracy can be leaner.
It remained uncertain if the eight Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could convince one of the 10 Republicans to cross over for a 9-9 vote, which would block Bolton's nomination.
Their main target was Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., a moderate who said he was undecided but inclined to vote for Bolton unless he heard "overwhelmingly disqualifying evidence" during the hearing, which was to continue on Tuesday.
"I don't think the Democrats have made as strong a case as I expected," he said during a break in Monday's session. During the hearing, he praised Bolton for saying "all the right things" in his opening statement.
In his statement, Bolton said that while the world body had occasionally "gone off track," such as when it passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism, he believed in its purpose.
If confirmed, he said, "I will strive to work with all interested parties to build a stronger and more effective United Nations."
Sen. George Allen, R-Va., said Bolton's bluntness would serve the United States well as it seeks to promote democracy, fight terrorism and press for U.N. reforms following revelations of corruption in the now defunct oil-for-food program for Iraq.
Much of the hearing focused on the cases of Westermann and a former analyst on Latin America for the National Intelligence Council, or NIC, an advisory body to the CIA director that produces the most important U.S. intelligence analyses.
Democrats on the foreign relations committee said e-mails and recent interviews with several current and former State Department officials showed that in February 2002, Bolton's office asked intelligence experts to review a portion of a speech Bolton was preparing to deliver.
The portion said that U.S. officials believed Cuba had an offensive biological warfare development program and was sharing technology with other "rogue nations."
Westermann, an expert with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, sent e-mails to Bolton's staff and to the CIA proposing new language that reflected an intelligence community view that was far less certain about Cuba's efforts than Bolton's proposed language, Democrats said.
Westermann said in an interview last week with committee staff that he was harshly dressed down by an enraged Bolton, who called him a middle-level "munchkin" who had no right to make changes to speeches by undersecretaries of state, they said.
Several of Westermann's former bosses told the committee staff that Bolton had asked them to remove Westermann from his position, they said.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Stuart Cohen, a former NIC head, said in an interview last week that Bolton had complained about the unnamed Latin America analyst with an aim of having him replaced as well.
Bolton said he believed Westermann had "gone behind my back" in proposing the changes to his speech and that he did ask that the analyst be reassigned.
Bolton said he'd received an e-mail from Westermann's supervisor saying the analyst's conduct was "entirely inappropriate."
He also confirmed that he complained about the NIC analyst to Cohen, and he didn't dispute the allegation that he had wanted the analyst transferred.
Neither man was reassigned.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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