Christopher Hill, President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Iraq, had an easy Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, but may still be blocked by a Republican senator who claims Mr. Hill in a prior post broke his word to raise human rights issues with North Korea.
Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, told The Washington Times last week that he intended to put a hold on Mr. Hill’s nomination, because he did not fulfill his promise to include the George W. Bush administration’s envoy for human rights in North Korea in negotiations with the communist state.
Mr. Hill said Wednesday that he intended to do that during the third phase of six-nation talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear programs, but that that phase was not reached while he was assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
“I told Senator Brownback that, when we got to that stage …, I would be prepared to support the creation of a human rights track within the normalization talks” with North Korea, Mr. Hill told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The problem was that we weren’t able to get beyond phase two.” He insisted, however, that he never promised to include the human rights envoy, Jay Lefkowitz, in strictly nuclear negotiations.
Mr. Hill’s response did not satisfy Mr. Brownback, who said later on the Senate floor that he still intended to object to the nomination. He also quoted an unnamed intelligence official as saying that Mr. Hill “sidetracked and bypassed” the intelligence community during his dealings with the North.
Summing up Mr. Hill’s record as the lead negotiator in the six-party talks, Mr. Brownback said: “Taken all together, this is an unfortunate legacy for Ambassador Hill. Broken commitments to Congress, freelancing diplomacy, disregarding human rights, and giving up key leverage to [North Korea] in exchange for insubstantial gestures.” He ended by saying, “Mr. President, I do not acquiesce to this nomination.”
Although the six-party talks started as nuclear-focused, the plan was to broaden the scope to various matters having to do with establishing normal diplomatic relations between Pyongyang and Washington.
According to the transcript of a July 31 Armed Services Committee hearing, Mr. Hill told Mr. Brownback after talking about the negotiations’ third stage: “I would be happy to invite [Mr. Lefkowitz] to all future negotiating sessions with North Korea.”
Because Mr. Brownback is not a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he asked Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and the committee’s ranking member, to raise the issue during Wednesday’s hearing. Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican, also pursued the matter.
Another Republican, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, asked Mr. Hill about what role Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, might have had in arranging Mr. Hill’s first substantive one-on-one meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Berlin in January 2007.
Mr. Hill denied that Mr. Holbrooke, a personal friend for whom the nominee worked in Bosnia in the 1990s, had helped organize the meeting. Because the Bush administration wanted to keep the session secret, Mr. Hill said he needed a cover to justify traveling to Germany. He asked Mr. Holbrooke, who was affiliated with the American Academy of Germany, to invite him to give a speech.
Democrats, meanwhile, sought to defend Mr. Hill’s lack of experience in the Middle East.
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and committee chairman, asked the nominee about similarities between the Balkans and Iraq.
“In many respects, Iraq is unique, but the problems that Iraq faces are not unique. We’ve seen these problems elsewhere and, indeed, I did see them in the Balkans,” Mr. Hill said, referring to “problems along the Kurdish Regional Government boundary and the disputes of those territories.”
“I saw a lot of these types of problems in Bosnia, dealing with the [Bosnians] and the Serb entity there,” he said. “I also saw them in dealing with how to manage some of the internal issues, some of the internal communities that were in Kosovo, the Serb communities there and the Albanian communities.”