WASHINGTON—President Bush on Monday nominated Undersecretary of State John Bolton, a prominent conservative within the State Department and a longtime critic of the United Nations, to become the U.S. ambassador to the international organization.
The selection of Bolton, 57, a tough-talking, experienced diplomat, surprised many in Washington and the diplomatic community. He's a hard-liner who's advocated a no-concessions approach toward Iran and North Korea on their nuclear ambitions. He's also helped to lead administration efforts to have Mohamed ElBaradei removed as head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency for allegedly being soft on Iran and its nuclear program.
Several lawmakers, including a prominent Republican, and some diplomats considered Bolton's appointment odd in light of Bush's second-term efforts at mending fences with allies alienated by the unilateralist foreign policy that Bolton advocated.
Bolton, the State Department's undersecretary for arms control and international security since 2001, was considered the odd man out at the State Department after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rebuffed efforts by Bolton supporters, mainly aides to Vice President Dick Cheney, to make him her top deputy, according to diplomatic sources who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. Rice named U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to the position instead.
It was Rice—not Bush—who announced Bolton's appointment Monday.
"The president and I have asked John to do this work because he knows how to get things done," Rice told reporters. "He is a tough-minded diplomat, he has a strong record of success, and he has a proven track record of effective multilateralism."
Bolton, in comments after Rice's, acknowledged his criticisms of the United Nations, but he said they would not keep him from being an effective ambassador.
"As you know, I have over the years written critically about the U.N.," he said, pointing to his successful 1991 effort to repeal the U.N. General Assembly's 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism. "I have consistently stressed in my writings that American leadership is critical to the success of the U.N., an effective U.N., one that is true to the original intent of its charter's framers."
Bolton played a key role in several of Bush's first-term foreign policy initiatives, including pressing Central Asian nations to give the United States basing rights for the invasion of Afghanistan and leading an initiative to intercept components of weapons of mass destruction.
But Bolton clashed with former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his team, who saw the aggressive, mustachioed lawyer as a neoconservative mole.
While Bolton has been hostile toward the United Nations, he has experience dealing with it. In Bush's father's presidency, he was the senior State Department official responsible for international organizations and helped oversee day-to-day U.S. strategy that led to U.N. approval of the 1991 Persian Gulf War to oust Iraq from Kuwait.
If confirmed, Bolton would replace former Sen. John Danforth, who is resigning.
Bolton is likely to face a rocky confirmation process from Senate Democrats.
"If the president is serious about reaching out to the world, why would he chose someone who has expressed such disdain for working with our allies?" said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, sounded skeptical, too.
"We need alliances, we need friends," Hagel said. "The United Nations is critical to that. At the same time, it needs reform. It needs reform badly. To go up there and kick the U.N. around doesn't get the job done."
But Bolton's nomination will have strong support from neoconservative Republicans who regard him as a straight-talking hero.
The Senate's Republican Policy Committee put out a lengthy talking-points memo Monday that described Bolton as a results-oriented multilateralist who's worked well under every Republican president since Ronald Reagan.
"Through history, some of our best U.N. ambassadors have been those with the strongest voices," the memo says, citing former Ambassadors Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jean Kirkpatrick.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Bolton
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