Senate panel OKs Negroponte for envoy to Iraq

John Negroponte with President Bush as he announced Negroponte’s nomination this month.Evan Vucci / AP
/ Source: news services

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday approved President Bush’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, sending the nomination to the full Senate.

Negroponte, currently the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, would become the administration’s top official in Iraq after the scheduled transfer of many powers from the U.S.-led occupational authority to an interim Iraqi government on June 30.

The committee said in a statement that it was not yet known when the full Senate would consider the nomination. But both Republicans and Democrats have signaled a willingness to confirm him quickly to his new post.

If confirmed, Negroponte would head a U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that would be temporarily housed in a palace that belonged to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He would assume the delicate task of dealing with an appointed caretaker government with limited powers until elections scheduled to be held next year.

At his confirmation hearing Tuesday, senators praised Negroponte, a career diplomat, for taking the job, which they said may be dangerous and thankless.

Negroponte described his new job as “fundamentally different” from that of the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, and would be to support the new government, not command it.

Instrumental in swaying U.N.
At the United Nations, Negroponte, 64, was instrumental in winning unanimous approval of a Security Council resolution that demanded that Saddam 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.

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.

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.