Diplomats praise Bolton's efforts

Work ethic, toughness impress U.N. colleagues

September 18, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

UNITED NATIONS - When President Bush greeted Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday, he gestured toward John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador, and asked, "Has the place blown up since he's been here?"

The internal U.N. television sound boom that picked up the jest did not record any response from the secretary-general, who simply smiled.

But the same question, in less explosive form, has been posed repeatedly around the United Nations since the arrival Aug. 1 of Bolton, who famously once said that the headquarters building was filled with such sloth and incompetence that it would not matter if 10 of its 38 floors were lopped off.

In response, his fellow ambassadors say they are impressed with Bolton's work ethic, his knowledge of his brief, his clarity in declaring it and his toughness as a negotiator.

In the three weeks of intensive negotiations on the document approved Friday night by the 153 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs here for the summit conference on global poverty and U.N. reform, he was in his chair at 8 a.m. and often still there when the meetings adjourned at 1 a.m.

Some delegates, however, faulted him for emphasizing what the United States would never accept, saying it ended up encouraging more active opposition to American positions.

They complained that he devoted too much time to talking about the American "red lines" and about the red pen he had in his pocket at the ready.

Those diplomats who feared that Bolton came with devil's horns thought they saw them spring forth three weeks ago when he submitted more than 400 substantive amendments and deletions and ordered up a line-by-line renegotiation of the summit document.

One of the recommendations was to eliminate all mention of a series of anti-poverty measures called the millennium development goals.

The surprise attack on a cherished standard sent shock waves across the United Nations, where officials had grown hopeful that the Bush administration's hostility to the United Nations had significantly lessened, particularly after supportive comments from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and State Department opposition to calls for the United States to withhold its U.N. dues.

A week later, the phrasing on the development goals was restored at Rice's direction, and on Wednesday, President Bush declared in his speech to the General Assembly, "We are committed to the millennium development goals."

So a question arose about whether Bolton had been carrying out the traditional mission of executing State Department policy or originating his own more assertive view.

R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, denied in an interview that there was any disconnect with Washington, and he noted that he had been in touch with Bolton every day.

"We set out from the month of April a very well-defined set of objectives as to what we wanted to achieve by the September summit," Burns said. "The policy was consistent, and when John became ambassador, he was fully involved in that policy and very much represented the views of our government."

John G. Ruggie, a professor of international relations at Harvard and a former undersecretary general for planning, said he thought Bolton's approach had emboldened opponents of American priorities, like reforming the U.N. management structure to give more power and flexibility to the secretary-general.

Bolton said his purpose in calling for a line-by-line renegotiation was to avoid having a text by "nameless, faceless textwriters," a reference to the writing staff of the General Assembly president, Jean Ping of Gabon.

Much of the positive reaction to Bolton has come from how he did not live up to his negative reviews.

"People were very cautious, to say the least, because of his reputation as a tough guy who didn't like the U.N." said Abdallah Baali, the ambassador of Algeria, who said he knew Bolton from working with him in Africa. "In fact, I was the only one who said that Bolton was an intelligent man who could be creative and constructive and wouldn't go around bullying delegations."

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