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Senate OKs Negroponte as U.S. ambassador to Iraq

The Senate Thursday approved  John Negroponte to be the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
John Negroponte speaks during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing April 27.Larry Downing / Reuters file

The Senate Thursday overwhelmingly approved President Bush’s selection of John Negroponte to be the first U.S. ambassador to Iraq after the planned June 30 transfer of sovereignty in Iraq.

The Senate approved Negroponte, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, after a number of Democrats in floor speeches blasted the administration’s handling of the Iraq conflict and voiced outrage over the reported abuses of Iraqi prisoners.

Voting 95-3, the Senate moved quickly to get Negroponte in place during the volatile lead-up to the handover of many government powers from the U.S.-led occupation authority to Iraq.

Negroponte, 64, will become the administration’s top official in Baghdad, replacing Paul Bremer, who will step down on June 30 as the head of the provisional authority.

Negroponte will head the biggest U.S. Embassy in the world and assume the delicate task of dealing with an appointed caretaker government with limited powers until elections are held next year.

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he could not recall assigning someone to a post “where the degree of difficulty of accomplishing his mission has been as high and the stakes as profound.”

Biden and other senators said Negroponte’s job has been made far tougher by the scandal over mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, revealed in photographs showing U.S. troops abusing and humiliating inmates at a prison near Baghdad.

“We probably would have done less damage to our image and our legitimacy and our motive had Iraqi prisoners been shot, like Saddam and other despots in that region do, than to have forced them ... to engage in degrading, sexually embarrassing, humiliating positions,” Biden said.

“The allegations of prisoner abuse have shaken the faith of the Iraqi people and the international community in the benevolence of the U.S. involvement in Iraq. The new ambassador must start to rebuild their trust,” Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said.

The British-born son of a Greek ship owner, Negroponte is a career U.S. foreign service officer who worked in Vietnam, Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines.

He left government service in 1997 to join publisher McGraw-Hill as executive vice president for global markets.

But Secretary of State Colin Powell, under whom Negroponte worked while Powell was national security adviser to President Reagan, persuaded him to quit that lucrative job and become ambassador to the United Nations in 2001.