Bolton vows to help U.N. relations

Some Democrats question nominee's history during confirmation hearing

April 12, 2005|By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Gwyneth K. Shaw,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Striking a conciliatory tone, John R. Bolton pledged yesterday to work to forge a new, stronger relationship between the United States and the United Nations if he is approved to be the nation's emissary to the international organization.

It was a much more cooperative stance than Bolton, a Baltimore native and frequent critic of the U.N., has taken in the past. But Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - who are hoping to convince at least one Republican to defect to their side - reacted with skepticism and a barrage of questions about his interactions with some intelligence analysts in recent years.

"You have a habit of belittling your opposition, and even some of your friends," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the committee. "We don't need a voice to which people will not listen. And I fear that, knowing your reputation, people will be inclined to tune you out."

Bolton, 56, has been undersecretary of state for arms control and international security for nearly three years.

The consideration of Bolton's nomination to be U.N. ambassador continues today, when Carl W. Ford Jr., a former colleague at the State Department, will testify about what became the focus of yesterday's hearing: whether Bolton, in a spat with two intelligence analysts, pushed to have them reassigned because he was angry that they had disagreed with him.

A vote is expected Thursday. But Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican who has been pegged as the most likely to cross party lines, repeated last night that he is inclined to vote for any presidential nominee unless he hears convincing evidence against the nominee.

"I haven't seen any yet on this nominee," Chafee said, although he did say he would reserve final judgment until after Ford testifies today.

If Chafee, who has been heavily lobbied, were to vote against Bolton and the committee's Democrats were to hold together, the nomination would die by a 9-9 vote.

Bolton is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate, because Republicans hold 55 of the 100 seats.

Under repeated questioning yesterday, Bolton said he asked for the analysts to be moved into a different area because he had lost confidence in their professionalism, not their acumen.

"I have never done anything in connection with any analyst's views," Bolton said.

Bolton said his version was supported by an e-mail, referenced several times during the hearing, from the boss of one of the analysts, Christian Westermann, who is an expert on Cuba and its biological weapons program.

After Westermann tried to intervene to prevent Bolton from including particular language about Cuba in a speech he was preparing, Westermann's boss wrote Bolton to say that the analyst's behavior had been "entirely inappropriate" and promised it wouldn't happen again.

Ultimately, neither Westermann nor the other analyst, who was not named to protect his cover, was reassigned. But Democrats seized on the issue as evidence that Bolton is the wrong man for the job.

"The question is, what happens if you dissent?" asked Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat. "If what happens when you dissent is you feel your job is on the line, then that needs to be stopped."

Bolton's nomination is arguably the most controversial of President Bush's tenure, with politicians and activist groups running ads against him and former diplomats signing dueling letters to Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who heads the Foreign Relations Committee.

Republicans on the panel, who hold a 10-8 advantage over Democrats, essentially dismissed the allegations and instead focused on the reforms they say are needed at the U.N.

Lugar said Bolton's reputation for being outspoken is no reason to disqualify him.

"In the diplomatic world, neither bluntness nor rhetorical sensitivity is a virtue in itself," said Lugar. "There are times when blunt talk serves a policy purpose. Other times it does not."

During the hearing, Bolton endorsed the idea that member nations should pay their dues, a courtesy the United States has sometimes failed to accomplish. And while he did disavow his earlier comments, he said the organization does have value, especially in this time of global terrorism and ongoing efforts to improve human rights.

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