WASHINGTON — President Bush’s choice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, likely will face a tough Senate confirmation hearing before Democrats who argue that he has disdained the world body and Republicans who are wary of him.
Bolton, 56, once said it wouldn’t matter if 10 stories of the U.N.’s 38-story headquarters simply vanished.
He also has said he does not believe in diplomacy for its own sake, and keeps a model of a hand grenade on his desk at the State Department, where he is undersecretary of state for arms control.
Democrats are gathering an arsenal of material, much of it from Bolton’s own writings and speeches, and predicted a tough confirmation fight in the U.S. Senate.
Almost immediately after Monday's nomination, Democrats objected that Bush had chosen a vocal United Nations critic although they see a pressing need to repair international relations. Bolton has criticized the U.N.’s bureaucracy and some of its peacekeeping operations, among other objections he has raised over a decade.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he was surprised at the selection and that Bolton’s “stated attitude toward the United Nations gives me great pause.”
Key GOP senator mum
The Republican chairman of the committee, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, told reporters: “I’m going to reserve any comments about the appropriateness or not of the president’s choice.”
Confirmation hearings are expected next month.
The appointment comes at a crucial time: U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is going forward with plans to reform the world body, and U.S. opinion of the United Nations, particularly in Congress, is at a low.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, anticipating a possible fight over confirmation, said that “through our history some of our best ambassadors have been those with strong voices.” She singled out former U.N. ambassadors Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
In 2001, 43 Democratic senators opposed Bolton’s nomination for his current post. He was confirmed anyway.
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During his tenure, Bolton has rankled lawmakers with his tough foreign policy talk. However, on Monday, he promised to work closely with Congress to advance Bush’s policies. “Working closely with others is essential to ensure a safer world,” he added.
If confirmed, Bolton, 56, would succeed former Sen. John Danforth, who retired in January.
At the United Nations, diplomats were optimistic.
“I hope that once he is here he will have a deeper perception of what the U.N. is about,” Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said.
Algerian ambassador Abdallah Baali said, “I think when he joins the United Nations he will certainly adapt his views to the United Nations, and I am sure we will work together in a very constructive way.”
Asked about Bolton’s past criticisms of the organization, Argentinian Ambassador Cesar Mayoral replied: “People change.”
Democrats, Republicans weigh in
In Washington, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee assailed Bolton.
Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said Bolton’s “antipathy to the U.N. will prevent him from effectively discharging his duties as our ambassador.” And Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said: “Quite simply, Mr. Bolton’s nomination carries with it baggage we cannot afford.”
Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia praised Bolton as “just the kind of man we need to represent the United States at the United Nations” because he will scrutinize its actions and expenditures.
Other Republicans on the committee were far more reserved.
Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., said in a statement: “I have been assured that he will bring a more balanced approach to his new role.” Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., told reporters that he wanted to see whether Bolton has the skills to deal with an institution riddled with scandals. “It needs reform. It needs reform badly, and to just go up there and kick the United Nations around doesn’t get the job done,” Hagel said.
Known for a hard-edged approach, Bolton’s previous comments about troublesome foreign issues and regimes have been far from diplomatic.
In a strongly worded speech in Tokyo last month, Bolton lashed out at China for not stopping its munitions companies from selling missile technology to Iran and other nations the United States considers rogue states.
Two years ago, Bolton denounced North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a “tyrannical dictator” and described life under the ruler as “a hellish nightmare.”
Furious, a North Korean spokesman fired back that “such human scum and bloodsucker” would be closed out of negotiations over the country’s nuclear weapons program.
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