Seeking Senate Backing, Bolton Faces Skeptics
By Brian Knowlton
The New York Times

Thursday 27 July 2006

Washington - Democratic senators renewed their opposition to extending the tenure of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, saying today that he remained a prickly, divisive and ineffective figure.

When Mr. Bolton was first nominated for the position last year, he had "evidenced great skepticism and disdain for the United Nations and multilateral diplomacy generally," said Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. "Nothing he has said or done since assuming his current position in New York suggests he has altered his views."

But Republicans at today's hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said they were confident that Mr. Bolton, who is 57, would be confirmed by the Senate soon, and that doing so was important at a time of tumult and diplomatic challenges on the world scene.

"There are few positions in government in which the president should have more latitude in choosing his nominee," said Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the committee. "We should not lose sight of the larger national security issues concerning U.N. reform and international diplomacy that are central to this nomination."

Mr. Bolton reiterated the administration's strong support for Israel in the crisis with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. He warned today against the United Nations taking any "lopsided" position against Israel.

"Any action we take must recognize that the current conflict is a direct result of the terrorist acts of Hezbollah and Hamas, and their state sponsors in Iran and Syria," he said. "We must defang Hezbollah. We hope that from this current crisis, we can seize the opportunity to once and forever dismantle Hezbollah."

He also said that the administration remained focused on what he called the "grave and direct threat" posed by the Iranian nuclear program, though Western diplomatic efforts have been somewhat overshadowed by the Lebanon crisis.

When Mr. Bush first nominated Mr. Bolton last year, Democrats strongly objected, saying that during his State Department tenure, he had shown himself to be a blustery and needlessly provocative figure who bullied American intelligence analysts to toughen their assessments and who harshly criticized the United Nations.

When Republicans failed to muster enough votes for his confirmation, Mr. Bush resorted to what is known as a recess appointment, elevating Bolton to the job in August when Congress was not in session. Such appointments normally expire at the end of the next Congress unless the Senate votes to confirm them.

But a Republican committee member who joined Bolton's Democratic critics last year, Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, wrote in an opinion article in The Washington Post last week that Mr. Bolton's recent work at the United Nations had impressed him.

While originally concerned about Mr. Bolton's "interpersonal skills," about his reputation "for straying off message, and a tendency to ‘go it alone' instead of working to build consensus," Mr. Voinovich wrote, he has since concluded that "while Bolton is not perfect, he has demonstrated his ability, especially in recent months, to work with others and follow the president's lead by working multilaterally."

Mr. Voinovich's change of heart was seen to have greatly increased the likelihood that the Republican-controlled Senate would confirm Mr. Bolton regardless of objections by Democrats like Senator Dodd, who said that unlike Mr. Voinovich, he had not been won over.

That Mr. Bolton had been described as a bully mattered little, Mr. Dodd said.

"There are lots of bullies in this town," he said. "My objection isn't that he's a bully, but that he's been an ineffective bully."

Earlier, Mr. Dodd predicted a "bruising fight" over the nomination.

Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the committee, also criticized Mr. Bolton, saying that his "approach to the job has set back our efforts to reform the United Nations and further alienated other countries."

While Democrats, and some of Mr. Bolton's counterparts at the United Nations, say he still appears to embody what they see as the Bush administration's disdain for diplomacy, Mr. Bolton said that he and the administration were engaged in vigorous diplomacy on many fronts.

"We have expended considerable diplomatic efforts through a variety of venues to try to persuade Iran that its pursuit of nuclear weapons makes it less, not more secure," he said. "President Bush has declared, now more than ever, the U.N. must play a critical role."

Mr. Bolton now appears likely to win support in the Republican-dominated committee, and the Democratic leadership in the Senate has not said whether it would attempt to block a full Senate vote on his nomination.