Ex-envoy voices doubts on Bolton

President issues defense of choice for envoy to U.N.

April 22, 2005|By Paul Richter and Sonni Efron | Paul Richter and Sonni Efron,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - A former U.S. ambassador to South Korea said yesterday that John R. Bolton, President Bush's choice for U.N. ambassador, might have misled the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about a provocative and controversial 2003 speech on North Korea.

The former ambassador, Thomas Hubbard, also described a confrontation in which Bolton yelled at him and slammed down a telephone, in another example of confrontational behavior that has helped stall Bolton's nomination.

Hubbard has spoken with Foreign Relations Committee aides, who are expanding an investigation into Bolton's background after senators postponed a confirmation vote this week until mid-May.

In a sign of deepening White House concern about the fate of the nomination, Bush defended Bolton yesterday in a speech to a group of insurance agents about Social Security reform. A day earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling in Europe, staunchly endorsed Bolton.

But in a potentially troublesome development for the administration, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who has had sharp disagreements with Bolton in the past, has been speaking to Republican senators on the nomination, Powell spokeswoman Peggy Cifrino said yesterday.

While Powell has not taken a public position on the Bolton nomination, his name was noticeably absent from a letter sent this month by a group of former Republican secretaries of state and other ex-officials urging Bolton's approval as U.N. ambassador. The letter was signed by former chief diplomats James A. Baker III, Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Schultz, among others.

Bolton, who has served since 2001 as undersecretary of state, has been hobbled by opposition to his critical views on the United Nations, his use of U.S. intelligence assessments in high-profile speeches and testimony and his treatment of intelligence analysts and others.

In July 2003, Bolton attracted widespread attention with a speech in South Korea in which he leveled repeated personal attacks on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Some U.S. diplomats feared the speech would lead North Korea to pull out of international talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

In testimony last week, Bolton implied that Thomas Hubbard, the former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, approved in advance of the speech and thanked Bolton for his comments afterward.

But Hubbard, a career diplomat who was Bush's ambassador to South Korea from 2001 to 2004, contradicted Bolton in an interview.

"I didn't approve personally of the tone of the speech, and had urged him to tone it down," said Hubbard, who has now retired from the foreign service.

Bolton testified that the night before the speech, Hubbard "reviewed it one last time and made a few more changes." After the speech, Bolton testified, Hubbard praised him.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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