President Bush yesterday nominated John R. Bolton, the tough-talking undersecretary of state who often has ignited controversy in his dealings with foreign countries, to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The nomination of an official widely known for his harsh criticism of the world organization shocked some diplomats in New York and left them wondering what message Mr. Bush intended to send the body — one of support or opposition.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who announced the nomination in the State Department’s ornate Benjamin Franklin reception room, offered several assurances that the Bush administration supports the 60-year-old organization.
“The United States is committed to the success of the United Nations, and we view the U.N. as an important component of our diplomacy,” Miss Rice said.
She also said that Mr. Bolton “is personally committed to the future success of the United Nations and he will be a strong voice” for its reform.
“John will also help to build a broader base of support here in the United States for the U.N. and its mission,” she said.
Mr. Bolton, in his remarks yesterday, appeared to be more conciliatory.
“The United Nations affords us the opportunity to move our policies forward together with unity of purpose,” he said. “My record over many years demonstrates clear support for effective multilateral diplomacy.”
Mr. Bolton’s critics were quick yesterday to blame him for the lack of resolution to the Iran and North Korea nuclear issues. He has advocated isolating the two countries rather than talking to them.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called Mr. Bolton’s nomination “a disappointing choice and one that sends all the wrong signals.”
“At a time when President Bush has recognized we need to begin repairing our damaged relations with the rest of the world, he nominates someone with a long history of being opposed to working cooperatively with other nations,” the Nevada Democrat said.
But Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, said Mr. Bolton was an “outstanding nominee.”
“I expect that he will show dexterity in being both diplomatic and tough at the same time,” Mr. Allen said.
The position requires Senate confirmation.
Miss Rice said she and Mr. Bush had chosen Mr. Bolton, 56, “because he knows how to get things done.” She cited his role in the Proliferation Security Initiative, aimed at combating the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
During his four years as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, Mr. Bolton sparred frequently with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who reluctantly had accepted the hawkish Mr. Bolton as part of his team.
He has made known his distaste for a number of international treaties and protracted negotiations.
But he is perhaps best known for his blunt language. In 2003, during a visit to Seoul, he described life in North Korea as “a hellish nightmare.” Pyongyang responded by calling him “human scum.”
In the administration of the first President Bush, Mr. Bolton served as assistant secretary of state for international organizations, which included overseeing U.S.-U.N. relations.
He also has served as assistant attorney general and assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday “warmly congratulated” Mr. Bolton on his nomination.
Several U.N. Security Council diplomats, who spend many hours a week crammed in a tiny room talking about contentious issues, broke into forced smiles at the announcement, saying they were looking forward to working with Mr. Bolton.
Other than that, most diplomats would only say “no comment” or “very interesting.”
Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali ventured further to say that “outside the United Nations, you are able to have very strong views, but when he gets here, I’m sure he’ll adapt. He’s not here to destroy the U.N.”
Betsy Pisik contributed to this report in New York.