Saturday, November 24, 2001

James Dobbins has spent a career tossed into some of the toughest, most sensitive diplomatic jobs Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Yugoslavia.
And that’s just in the last eight years.
The diplomat’s latest task as President Bush’s envoy to anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan is to help forge a power-sharing government to take over the country that has been long torn by ethnic divisions.
Less than two weeks after he was handed that job on Nov. 6, he helped persuade the Northern Alliance to participate in U.N.-brokered talks aimed at creating such a government. The meeting will be held Tuesday in Bonn.
The number of difficult tasks assigned to Mr. Dobbins is testimony to the confidence Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and several predecessors have in him. Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright praised him for his work a year ago on the Balkans issue.
But Mr. Dobbins has had problems with some Republicans in Congress. They are still upset by what they consider misleading testimony in 1995 and 1996, when Mr. Dobbins indicated he had not been briefed by the FBI on the Haitian death-squad involvement in the slaying of a right-wing lawyer opposed to Haitian leader Jean-Bertrande Aristide.
Mr. Dobbins has denied he intentionally misled Congress.
The State Department’s inspector general found he “acted with reckless disregard,” but a senior personnel officer cleared him in October 1998. She set aside a reprimand and placed in his file a milder “letter of admonishment” after determining he had been “technically truthful” because he had not received a detailed FBI briefing. She cautioned him to be more careful in future testimony.
Warren Christopher, then secretary of state, and Anthony Lake, who headed the National Security Council, defended Mr. Dobbins, saying his answers to the lawmakers were truthful.
Still, that testimony before House International Relations Committee members put Mr. Dobbins on the wrong side of two forceful lawmakers: then-committee Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, and Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, then chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee and now head of the Government Reform Committee.
Their antipathy lasts to this day, and includes opposition to his latest high-profile job.
Mr. Burton “is still adamantly opposed to Mr. Dobbins’ appointment,” Burton spokesman John Cardarelli said this week. “He feels that anyone who has misled Congress should not be in a position of such prominence.”

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