Sunday, March 20, 2005

Democrats say John Bolton may win confirmation to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, but he is going to have a rough fight, and senators from both parties said just how difficult the fight will be will depend on how he defends his past comments about the role of the United Nations.

“He may be confirmed, but it’s going to be a very rocky trip,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will first consider the nomination, probably early next month.

President Bush nominated Mr. Bolton, who is undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, earlier this month, surprising Democrats who had thought Mr. Bolton would be marginalized in a new Bush administration.

Senators from both parties say Mr. Bolton will have to explain past comments questioning the usefulness of the United Nations, more recent comments that irked foreign leaders, and his record at the State Department.

“He’s been working on arms control for the past four years, right? But on his watch, Iran and North Korea raced to join the nuclear club,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. “Throw in a long history of not wanting to work with our allies, and you’ve got a nominee who will have a tough time making a case that he’s the right guy for this job.”

Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar said he expects the confirmation hearing to take place the week Congress returns from its Easter recess. While not specifically endorsing Mr. Bolton, the Indiana Republican said he will work to have him confirmed.

Others on the committee are enthusiastic. Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, said Mr. Bolton is the right man to push the United Nations from within to restore its credibility.

“Oil-for-food tarred that credibility. I think in Bolton you get somebody who wants to make sure the U.N. is working with us to do the right thing,” Mr. Coleman said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican and a member of the committee, said the president showed strong leadership by choosing Mr. Bolton in the face of a difficult confirmation battle.

Still, he said, the outcome rests with Mr. Bolton. “How this goes will depend on his confirmation hearing and how he handles it,” Mr. Alexander said.

And interest groups are arming senators with background information to try to sink Mr. Bolton’s nomination.

“Right now, there’s information-gathering. People are sending stuff to Dodd, and to [ranking Democrat Sen. Joseph R.] Biden and to Lugar to armor them,” said Larry Burns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a nonprofit group that promotes economic and political issues for the Western Hemisphere.

A senior Democratic aide said there is not a push for a filibuster of Mr. Bolton right now, but opponents — both inside and outside of Congress — said it’s still possible for Republicans to force the Bush administration to withdraw the nominee.

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