President Bush on Monday nominated John Negroponte, the top U.S. diplomat at the United Nations, to be the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
Bush announced the nomination, which is subject to confirmation by the Senate, in a ceremony at the Oval Office, promising that Iraq “will be free and democratic and peaceful.”
At the United Nations, Negroponte, 64, was instrumental in winning unanimous approval of a Security Council resolution that demanded that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein comply with U.N. mandates to disarm.
While the resolution helped the Bush administration make its case for invading Iraq, the Security Council eventually refused to endorse the overthrow of Saddam, opting instead to extend U.N. weapons searches.
“John Negroponte is a man of enormous experience and skill” and “has done a really good job of speaking for the United States to the world about our intentions to spread freedom and peace,” Bush said.
‘No doubt in my mind he can handle it’
Regarding Negroponte’s new post, the president said there is “no doubt in my mind he can handle it, no doubt in my mind he will do a very good job, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Iraq will be free and democratic and peaceful.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., supported the nomination and said he would work with Secretary of State Colin Powell to provide a prompt public hearing for Negroponte.
If confirmed, Negroponte would head a U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that would be temporarily housed in a palace that belonged to Saddam. When up and running, the embassy will be the largest in the world.
“I expect the focus of our efforts to be on supporting a free and stable Iraq, at peace with its neighbors,” Negroponte said in a statement. “Collaboration with the international community, especially the United Nations, will be a very important part of this endeavor.”
Negroponte would become ambassador in Baghdad when the United States hands over political power to an interim Iraqi government by a June 30 deadline. The current top U.S. official in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, is expected to leave the country once the political transition is completed. But thousands of U.S. troops will remain in the country afterward.
As U.N. ambassador in New York, Negroponte also helped win approval of a resolution to expand the mandate of an international security force in Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban government. Before that, he worked in private business between government assignments as ambassador to Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines and as deputy national security adviser from 1987 to 1989.
Previous nomination sparked controversy
Negroponte’s nomination for the U.N. post was confirmed by the Senate in September 2001, but that confirmation did not come easily.
It was delayed a half-year mostly because of criticism of his record as the U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. In Honduras, Negroponte played a prominent role in assisting the Contras in Nicaragua in their war with the left-wing Sandinista government, which was aligned with Cuba and the Soviet Union.
For weeks before his Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Negroponte was questioned by staff members on whether he had acquiesced to human rights abuses by a Honduran death squad that was funded and partly trained by the CIA.
Negroponte testified that he did not believe the abuses were part of a deliberate Honduran government policy. “To this day,” he said, “I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras.”
“He’s a diplomat’s diplomat,” said Bernard Aronson, the State Department’s top Latin America official in the first Bush administration, when Negroponte was ambassador to Mexico.
“He’s trusted, I think, by the administration. He’s certainly very close to the secretary of state, and he’s unflappable,” Aronson said in a recent interview.