WASHINGTON - President Bush tapped John R. Bolton, a blunt-talking administration conservative who has been sharply critical of the United Nations, yesterday as the next U.S. ambassador to the world body.
Democrats quickly reacted against the nomination, saying Bolton was the wrong man for the U.N. post at a time when the United States was seeking to mend fences with longtime allies after a period of disaffection resulting from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and other disagreements.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the selection at a brief State Department ceremony, calling Bolton "a tough-minded diplomat" with a proven track record of success, and comparing him to two of the more colorful and outspoken Americans who have held the U.N. post, Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick and the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
"Some of our best ambassadors have been those with the strongest voices," Rice said. Neither Rice nor Bolton took questions.
At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that Bolton is "someone who shares the president's strong commitment to making sure multilateral organizations are effective."
The Baltimore-born Bolton, now undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, volunteered that he had "over the years written critically about the U.N.," but he said his record also "demonstrates clear support for effective multilateral diplomacy."
"The United Nations affords us the opportunity to move our policies forward together with unity of purpose," he said.
On his past criticism of the United Nations, he said one of his proudest achievements came in 1991 when he played a role in the successful effort to repeal a 1975 General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism, "thus removing the greatest stain on the U.N.'s reputation." Rice called him the "principal architect" of the repeal initiative.
Bolton, 56, grew up on Frederick Avenue near Mount St. Joseph's High School in Baltimore and attended McDonough School in Owings Mills, according to his State Department office. He holds bachelor's and law degrees from Yale.
Reaction from Senate Democrats promised contentious confirmation hearings for Bolton when he goes before the Foreign Relations Committee, though it seemed unlikely that his nomination would be sidetracked. Forty-three Democrats voted against him when he was confirmed for his current post in May 2001.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada called Bolton "a disappointing choice" and said he "will have much to answer for" during the hearings.
"At a time when President Bush has recognized we need to begin repairing our damaged relations with the rest of the world, he nominates someone with a long history of being opposed to working cooperatively with other nations," Reid said.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said the nomination carries with it "baggage we cannot afford."
The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee recalled that Bolton once said "if the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference," a quote attributed to Bolton by the Boston Globe in 2001 and by others since.
`Surprised' by choice
The senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, said he was "surprised" by the president's choice in light of Bush's efforts to reach out to allies and the international community, and said Bolton's "attitude" toward the United Nations gives him "great pause." But Biden said he wants to hear Bolton's explanation of how he would approach the job.
Maryland Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a member of the Foreign Relations panel, expressed "serious reservations," saying Bolton had displayed skepticism about "this nation's long-standing tradition of seeking to carry out the vision and responsibilities of world leadership through the United Nations and other major multilateral institutions."
But Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee described Bolton as an "outstanding candidate" and said he "looked forward to seeing his nomination move quickly through the Senate."
Throughout his career, Frist said, Bolton "has proven to be an effective, successful diplomat and a tough negotiator."
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said through a spokesman that he looks forward to working with Bolton. As for Bolton's record of demanding accountability from the United Nations, the spokesman, Stephane Dujarric said: "We have nothing against people who do hold us accountable. On the contrary, I think we do want to be held accountable."
Since 2001, Bolton has been Washington's senior arms control official. In that post, he helped negotiate Libya's decision to give up weapons of mass destruction. He was also the primary negotiator of the Moscow Treaty, under which the United States and Russia agreed to sharply scale back their nuclear warheads.
Irked China, N. Korea