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U.N. Ambassador Nominee John Bolton Faces Senate Confirmation Hearings

April 11, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: The Bolton confirmation hearings will continue tomorrow. They’ve been awaited with much anticipation at the United Nations. Bolton may not be that well known personally by U.N. officials but his views certainly are.

At U.N. headquarters in Manhattan, some officials have taken the diplomatic approach to the Bolton appointment. I recently spoke with Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s newly appointed chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown. He saw the bright side.

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: I think many of us do think there is a silver lining to this, that a good ambassador from the United States to the U.N. also has to be a good ambassador from the U.N. to Washington. And at the moment, we have a very divided Washington when it comes to the U.N.

Everybody is running with different reform plans, all the six congressional committees that are investigating oil for food and other scandals. The administration has ideas of its own, and if John Bolton can corral all those views and in a sense outflank the right and come up with a reform position from Washington that we can then address, that actually could be very helpful.

RAY SUAREZ: South Africa’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dumisani Kumalo, a strong advocate for African issues and a frequent critic of Bush administration policies, offered this welcome.

DUMISANI KUMALO: So, you know, Mr. Bolton, let him come here. He will discover, in fact, the world is much larger than just U.S. interests. And he’ll discover, too, in order to meet U.S. interests you will have to be interested in other parts of world and their interests. So I mean to us, it’s great because an appointment is an appointment.

And you know, if President Bush feels this is the best person to represent him, that is great, and you know, we will work with him, and I think in six months he’ll discover that, in fact, the interests of the world are no different than those of the United States.

RAY SUAREZ: In Washington, groups of former U.S. diplomats have been dispatching pro and con letters on the Bolton confirmation. We hear from signers on both sides who served at the U.S. Mission to the U.N.

Signing the pro-Bolton letter was Jose Sorzano. He was deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. in the Reagan administration. Signing the letter opposing Bolton was William vanden Heuvel. He was Deputy U.S. Permanent representative to the United Nations in the Carter Administration.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassadors, let me start with, I guess, the central question that the senators have been wrestling with today. Is John Bolton, Ambassador Sorzano, the right man for the job?

JOSE SORZANO: I believe he is. First of all he is selected by the president. That’s the president’s right and prerogative to select and nominate his individual, the ones he believes in. Secondly, he has the credentials and the achievements that indicate that he will be a good ambassador, a superb ambassador. Number three, the criticisms that are made of him, I believe, make him directly a good appointment. They say that he is blunt. Well, there are times in which you have to call a spade a spade.

I served on under Ambassador Kirkpatrick. And Ambassador Kirkpatrick sent a letter to the non-align movement saying the United States is taking off its kick-me sign off the back. And I resent that you are signing letters in which, as a non-align, you are accusing the United States of all kinds of things. You know what happened? People who she had not addressed a letter to began to call the embassy and saying why are you not sending letters like that to us? You don’t regard us as friends and so on and so forth?

Finally, I believe that on the questions of the skepticism about the U.N., well people who are not skeptical about the U.N. right now have not been paying attention to what’s been going on because what’s been going on with the oil-for-food and all the other scandals indicate not only skepticism but actually a little bit of alarm about what’s going on in the U.N.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador vanden Heuvel your view of the Bolton nomination and why did you choose to go public with your opposition to it?

WILLIAM VANDEN HEUVEL: If President Bush and Secretary Rice meant what they said when they went to Europe and to Canada and said that the purpose of the second administration was to seek multilateral agreements and to strengthen multilateral institutions, then John Bolton’s nomination is clearly a wrong nomination to serve that purpose.

Why would the State Department, why would Secretary Rice have denied him the appointment as deputy secretary of state? Why would Sen. Lugar have advised the White House that he could not be confirmed as deputy secretary of state? Because his record is totally against that kind of multilateralism.

He may well be perfectly qualified to serve in the Pentagon of Secretary Rumsfeld. But he undercuts Secretary Powell and others in the State Department over and over again. He stands for an ideological view that is in strong opposition to American leadership of the world. Instead, as you said, as he was introduced, as this section was introduced he believes that military solutions are what establishes America’s strength. And the United Nations that’s not the case. The United Nations….

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. — I’m sorry go ahead.

WILLIAM VANDEN HEUVEL: The United Nations is a preeminent place of diplomacy where you have to listen to people and take into account diverse interests, where you have to be strong, where at the same time you have to convince people, but that basic credibility comes from their own sense that you have an interest in what they believe is their interest and that the nation that you are representing, the United States, which they all acknowledge is absolutely indispensable to leadership in the United Nations, is really willing to seek a better world with the United Nations helping.

RAY SUAREZ: How about that Jose Sorzano? You heard William vanden Heuvel talk almost about a persuading power of the United States. Can John Bolton wield that?

JOSE SORZANO: Well, let me say that the fact that the U.N. is a multilateral body is undeniable but it’s not the only multilateral body around. There is NATO; there is OACD, and there’s a number of other things. John Bolton actually put together a multilateral effort that has very effectively uncovered the underground supply of nuclear materials to Libya. And that certainly was multilateral and very effective.

It’s one thing to try to create an effective multilateral tool and it’s another one to try – to have been accused of being blunt because he said I don’t do carrots. He said that with regard to North Korea. Well, others tried the carrot. The previous administration tried the carrots and like Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny, Bugs Bunny ate the carrot and Elmer Fudd was befuddled and we ended up in this particular case without the carrots and without the rabbits.

So, when he says certain things like that I think he ought to be applauded because it is silly to continue to beat your head against a particular route that has already been tried and has not work. When you say I won’t do carrots and people complain about that, I think he ought to be applauded for that.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador vanden Heuvel, is this primarily a debate about personality and diplomatic temperament? A lot of the hearing today went to whether or not subordinates were moved to other departments over their objections to public statements of Undersecretary Bolton, whether or not he had gone off the reservation in making policy pronouncements on Cuba and North Korea. Is that more important than whether or not people call him blunt-spoken?

WILLIAM VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, to be blunt-spoken is not unusual in diplomacy. All of us have done that. But Ambassador Sorzano has made my case for me against John Bolton by pointing out that he doesn’t look at the United Nations as an effective part of the multilateral institutions that you have to create.

What the Senate went into today was a very important question, which is credibility in the context of the Iraq War. The intelligence estimates that were made at the time of the Iraq war, which were disputed in the United Nations and in large measure not accepted, it turns out that those beliefs and those intelligence estimates should not have been accepted.

Now, John Bolton, it appears, from the evidence that was given this afternoon in the hearings, when it made several assertions relating to the biochemical capacity of Cuba in terms of development and a threat to the United States and of Syria, that were not accurate in terms of what the intelligence agencies themselves were saying and they so advised him; in response to that, he tried to get, according to the testimony this afternoon, two of the intelligence analysts dismissed from their positions.

Well, that’s the last thing that this country needs either for ourselves or in the United Nations. Our word has to be believed. And if people believe that we are hyping intelligence estimates and that we are making threats and accusations against other countries that are not, in fact, true, we undermine our credibility to the extent that we cannot be an effective leader.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Sorzano?

JOSE SORZANO: I think Ambassador vanden Heuvel either misheard or misinterpreted. I did not say Ambassador-to-be-Bolton did not believe in the multilateralism of the U.N. The U.N. has many things that work. There are many that don’t work. And I think one of his role is going to be able to say what doesn’t work and who how can we improve it, and improve that which is working?

But with regard to this intelligence thing, I have been a consumer of that intelligence. And unlike the pope when he speaks of doctrinal matters, the intelligence community, as we all know, it does not have infallibility. Many times in the dialogue that happens, they will come and say that this is what’s happening. And I said I don’t believe it — if it’s a dialogue — and you ask for more evidence and they bring you back and eventually do develop trust in the relationship.

If you have a situation in which the individual who is briefing you about a particular subject matter, eventually you lose trust in that individual’s judgment. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to say, I would like to have another analyst come to talk to me about this type of stuff.

So I don’t think that this is something to create a scandal. As a matter of fact, given the track record of the intelligence community to be doubtful and skeptical about the intelligence of the messages that you’re getting from the intelligence community I think is quite rational.

RAY SUAREZ: But isn’t there also a pressure for an administration to speak with one voice on particular countries and their capabilities or lack of capabilities?

JOSE SORZANO: Every time in any subject that I ever spoke either in the National Security Council or in the U.N., you know, four diplomats, six opinions. It happens all the time. This administration has been very good in maintaining discipline. And I believe that one of the reasons why John Bolton has to be there is quite frankly the U.N. is a bully pulpit. And we need somebody who is spoken — outspoken like him who can actually talk and express a point of view of the United States because recently quite frankly, I think we have been lacking that.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador vanden Heuvel, quick response to that last point?

WILLIAM VANDEN HEUVEL: Well I think you’re going to see tomorrow in the hearings the evidence put forward where he bullied and tried to get dismissed people who were giving an honest analysis of intelligence that turned out to be in fact accurate.

Yes, of course, there’s important things to do in the U.N.: reform, Darfur, creating an exit from Iraq for us, dealing with the health problems of the world, nation building. John Bolton has spent his entire public career opposing that constructive action by other nations in cooperation with the United States. He does not serve what is presumably the ostensible purpose of President Bush.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassadors, thank you both.

JOSE SORZANO: Thank you.