WASHINGTON - President Bush has chosen John C. Danforth, a former three-term Republican senator from Missouri with a reputation as a skilled mediator, to replace John D. Negroponte as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The widely respected Danforth, 67, is virtually assured of quick confirmation by the Senate, sparing the administration a prolonged vacancy at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, one of the most important American diplomatic posts in the world.
Negroponte will become the first American ambassador to Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. He will run a sprawling new embassy that will replace the occupation authority now led by the U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III.
During his 18 years in the Senate, Danforth steered an independent course between the moderate and conservative wings of his party while being able to work productively with lawmakers of both parties.
He won solid conservative credentials for opposing abortion rights and for championing the nomination to the Supreme Court of Clarence Thomas, who once worked on Danforth's staff. But he broke with Republican leaders in opposing mandatory school prayer, the death penalty and a ban on federal funding for abortion counseling.
An heir to the Ralston-Purina pet-food fortune, Danforth is both a Yale-trained attorney and an ordained Episcopal priest. On Capitol Hill, he was sometimes jokingly referred to as St. Jack, both by friends who admired what they viewed as his honest and straightforward style, and by foes who considered him a bit too righteous in tone.
Though he built his name mostly on legal and judicial matters, Danforth worked on some foreign-policy initiatives. He helped to win emergency food aid for Africa and pressed the Reagan administration to accelerate arms-reduction talks with the Soviet Union. He also worked with former Sen. George J. Mitchell, a Maine Democrat, to engineer a cutoff of U.S. ties to the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.
Since his retirement from the Senate in 1994, Danforth has practiced law in St. Louis but has also been called upon by both government and private industry to put his mediation skills to work on difficult problems.
One of the toughest has been his three-year, largely successful, effort as President Bush's special envoy to broker a peace agreement between the Muslim rulers in Sudan and Christian and animist rebels. The agreement hastened an end to one of the world's longest-running civil wars.
But his work on Sudan has opened him to criticism from one activist group, Christian Solidarity International, which accused him of glossing over Sudan's notorious human rights abuses, such as slavery, in the interests of securing an agreement.
Danforth "neglected some issues that are necessary for long-term peace and justice," said the group's Washington representative, Keith Roderick, himself an Episcopal priest. Danforth did not return calls seeking comment.
In 1999, when new evidence surfaced about the government assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, six years earlier, Attorney General Janet Reno reached out to Danforth to launch a new investigation. His 14-month inquiry absolved government agents of responsibility for the disaster. Amid the corporate financial scandals of 2002, the accounting firm Arthur Andersen hired Danforth to investigate the firm's policies and recommend improvements.
It appeared likely yesterday that Negroponte will leave his U.N. post and move to Baghdad before Danforth is confirmed to replace him. In the meantime, the top U.S. official there will be the deputy representative, James Cunningham.