Bolton leaving post as U.N. ambassador

Democrats opposed Senate confirmation of polarizing nominee appointed by Bush

December 05, 2006|By Stevenson Swanson | Stevenson Swanson,Chicago Tribune

NEW YORK -- Ending weeks of speculation about the future of one of the Bush administration's more polarizing figures, the White House said yesterday that John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will leave that post in the coming weeks.

With his nomination stalled in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because of opposition from Democrats and some Republicans, Bolton has served as the ambassador since August 2005 under a presidential recess appointment that will expire when the current Congress adjourns.

The son of a firefighter, Bolton grew up near Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore and attended McDonogh School in Owings Mills. After college and law school at Yale University, he joined a Washington law firm but soon went to work for the government, first at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He later worked at the Justice Department as an assistant attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. The sharp-tongued Bolton, who made many critical remarks about the world body before he became U.S. ambassador, submitted a three-paragraph resignation letter to President Bush on Friday. He gave no reason for his decision, saying only that "after careful consideration, I have concluded that my service in your administration should end" when his appointment expires.

Posing with Bolton in the Oval Office, the president said yesterday that he had accepted the resignation, but added: "I'm not happy about it. I think he deserved to be confirmed."

Turning to Bolton, Bush said: "You've been a stalwart defender of freedom and peace. You've been strong in your advocacy for human rights and human dignity. You've done everything that can be expected for an ambassador."

Senate Democrats, who are to take control of that chamber next month as a result of the Nov. 7 elections, urged Bush to nominate a less controversial figure.

"The president now has an opportunity to nominate an ambassador who can garner strong bipartisan and international support," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who will become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. "If the president nominates such a person, I look forward to scheduling hearings promptly."

Among names in circulation as a potential replacement are U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, former Iowa Republican Rep. Jim Leach, and Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, who is in charge of Bush's initiative to foster democracy around the world.

Foreign affairs experts said that with a full agenda of complex issues facing the United Nations, the Bush administration could not afford to leave the job vacant for long. In recent months, the U.N. Security Council has juggled the North Korean nuclear test, the crisis in Darfur, the volatile political and military situation in Lebanon, and Iran's moves to develop facilities that could be used to build a nuclear bomb.

"Given the issues that are coming to the U.N. right now, it would be disappointing if the next ambassador were just a place-holder," said Lee Feinstein of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Edward Luck, a professor of international affairs at Columbia University, noted that several leadership positions will soon be turning over at the United Nations. Most notably, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon will become secretary-general Jan. 1, replacing Kofi Annan, whose term is expiring.

"I think there are some possibilities for a new beginning here," Luck said.

Bolton and Annan had an uneasy relationship at best. Despite sharing a commitment to reforming the United Nations, they differed greatly in personality and approach. That was reflected in Annan's lukewarm assessment yesterday of the U.S. ambassador.

"I think Ambassador Bolton did the job he was expected to do," Annan said. "He came at a time when we had lots of tough issues. As a representative of the U.S. government, he pressed ahead with the instructions that he had been given, and tried to work as effectively as he could with the other ambassadors."

Considering the reputation that preceded his arrival last year as a brash, uncompromising critic of the world body, many U.N. observers have given Bolton good marks. He lobbied Security Council members to approve resolutions aimed at curtailing North Korean military and nuclear programs, and won support for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Although many were said to find his manner offputting, Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Oshima praised him as "an exceptionally skillful diplomat."

After last month's elections, the White House resubmitted Bolton's name to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but Biden said he saw no point in considering the nomination again.

Opposition to Bolton centered on allegations that he had tried to manipulate intelligence to support his views and that his abrasive personality made him ill-suited to the job.

Stevenson Swanson writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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