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Bolton U.N. Nomination Returns to the Senate


Democrats are promising a tough nomination hearing today for the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton. President Bush got around fierce opposition in the Senate last year by appointing Bolton while Congress was in recess. The White House is feeling more confident he'll be approved this year now that a key Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee supports him.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.


A year ago, Senator George Voinovich was practically in tears as he raised concerns about John Bolton's personality and questioned how he'd represent America at the U.N. Bolton had a reputation for straying off message and for being confrontational, Voinovich said. But now, the Ohio Republican has had a change of heart, and says he's impressed to see Bolton pushing the Bush administration's agenda at the U.N.

Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH (Republican, Ohio): He's had some interpersonal skill problems and I think he's worked very, very hard on remedying them. I think that maybe he's read the New Testament about he that humbles himself shall be exalted, and he that exalted himself shall be humbled.

KELEMEN: Humble is not the word Barbara Crossette would use to describe Bolton. She's a former U.N. bureau chief for The New York Times and has written about Bolton in Foreign Policy magazine. She says while Bolton is smart and knows the U.N. system, he's also insulted many diplomats.

Ms. BARBARA CROSSETTE (Former U.N. Bureau Chief, The New York Times): It's what people call his prosecutorial style that is upsetting an awful lot of people, because it's a very complicated diplomatic world at the U.N.

KELEMEN: John Bolton tends to brush aside talk about his style. He always has a quick comeback, as when he was asked by a State Department reporter what surprises him about the job.

Ambassador JOHN BOLTON (United States Ambassador to the United Nations): Nothing about the U.N. surprises me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: There must be something.

Amb. BOLTON: Well, I tell you the thing that surprises me most is walking along the streets of New York, which I do from the Waldorf to the Mission(ph) to the U.N., and having taxicab drivers or people on the streets say, hey, Ambassador Bolton, you're doing a great job. Or, give ‘em hell.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELEMEN: Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are likely to give him more encouragement at today's hearing. Democrats say they are still waiting for answers to questions they raised last year. Crossette thinks they should take a hard look at what he's doing now at a time when the U.N. has so much on its plate, from the crisis in the Middle East to Iran and North Korea, and big decisions on the U.N.'s future.

Ms. CROSSETTE: You know, here we are after a year. We can make some judgments. Some of these reforms we care about have not materialized. Why not? And ask some tough questions.

KELEMEN: She says Bolton's strong-arm tactics on the U.N. budget angered developing nations, who then blocked key management reforms. And diplomats complain that Bolton was intransigent in negotiations on the U.N. Human Rights Council, a body he often said needed to be completely different than its predecessor.

Amb. BOLTON: We want a butterfly. We don't intend to put lipstick on a caterpillar and call it a success.

KELEMEN: Bolton never got his butterfly, and the U.S. didn't run for a seat on the council.

Tensions between Bolton and the U.N. establishment came to a boil last month, when a top official, Mark Malloch Brown, spoke to the Center for American Progress here in Washington. He said Americans just don't see the good work the U.N. does with the U.S.

Mr. MARK MALLOCH BROWN (Deputy Secretary General, United Nations Official): Much of the public discourse that reaches the U.S. heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors, such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. That is what I meant by stealth diplomacy. The U.N.'s role is, if in effect, a secret in Middle America.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Bolton said it was a huge mistake for, as he put it, an international civil servant to criticize a U.N. member state.

Amb. BOLTON: Not to mention the patronizing and condescending attitude about Middle America, which apparently lacks electricity and the other things it needs out in the heartland to see anything other than the occasional broadcast of Fox News.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Bolton takes every chance he can to talk about the need to streamline the U.N. civil service, the Secretariat. He did so in a half joking way again this week when describing an informal vote at the Security Council on who might be the next secretary general.

Amb. BOLTON: The French delegation handed out pens all of the same color, so that there'd be no way to tell among the different ballots. I ascertained that the pens where from the Secretariat, so I gave mine back.

KELEMEN: He did that, he said, to save the U.N. some money.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: You are listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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