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John Bolton Appears Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee

April 11, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: John Bolton has behind him a solid core of conservative supporters. They describe him as a voracious reader, pouring over every piece of intelligence. They say he’s someone who believes, as they do, that America should lead through its military strength and not negotiate that advantage away through multilateral treaties.

Bolton has in front of him a solid block of opponents, people who say he’s blunt, abrasive, driven by ideology to the point that he would select, even manipulate intelligence to match his conservative goals. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana clearly recognized those divergent views when he opened hearings this morning on the president’s nomination of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: The opponents of Mr. Bolton have criticized some statements of the nominee as abrasive, confrontational and insensitive. Some of these same statements have been celebrated by supporters of the nominee as demonstrating a tough-minded, refreshingly blunt approach to diplomacy. But in the diplomatic world neither bluntness nor rhetorical sensitivity is a virtue in itself.

RAY SUAREZ: Democrats like Delaware’s Joseph Biden simply said they were bewildered by the president’s choice.

JOSEPH BIDEN: Quite frankly I’m surprised that the nominee wants the job that he’s been nominated for given the many negative things he had to say about the U.N., international institutions and international law.

RAY SUAREZ: Bolton, who for the past four years has served as undersecretary for arms control in the State Department, wasn’t controversial at all in his opening statement.

JOHN BOLTON: 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. As the president stated before the U.N. General Assembly last September, let history show that in a decisive decade members of the United Nations did not grow weary in our duties or waver in meeting them.

RAY SUAREZ: But comments Bolton made previously as a private citizen and about the United Nations in particular are what Democrats jumped on today.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I have spent the last month extensively reviewing your writings, your public statements about the United Nations. And my overall assessment, Mr. Bolton, is that you have nothing but disdain for the United Nations. You said it doesn’t even exist. And you want to work there.

RAY SUAREZ: California’s Barbara Boxer played a tape of Bolton saying just that in 1994.

JOHN BOLTON: But there is no being out there called the United Nations. There’s simply a group of member governments who if they have the political will every once in a while to protect international peace and security, they’re able to do it.

And I think it would be a real mistake to count on the United Nations as if it’s some disembodied entity out there that can function on its own. When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow. When it suits our interest to do so, we will lead. When it does not suit our interest to do so, we will not.

JOHN BOLTON: The tape that you just showed and some of those statements come from a panel discussion, I think it was in 1994, before the World Federalists. The World Federalists believe in world government. And I do not.

The passage that you left out of the tape is my description of President Bush and Secretary Baker’s very effective creation of the coalition after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and their use of the Security Council to repel the invaders.

RAY SUAREZ: Illinois Democrat Barack Obama followed.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: There’s one quote in that tape that particularly disturbed me. And that was — subscribes to the notion that we will lead when it suits our interests. If that ends up being the standard, then it’s going to be pretty hard for us to gain the kind of cooperation that we need on important issues like the war on terror.

RAY SUAREZ: Virginia Republican George Allen was among the supporters who said they appreciated Bolton’s straight talk.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: The fact that there has been controversy, the American people, they think that’s probably good because you’ll bring a credibility to the United Nations that they sorely need. And I like the fact that you’ll advocate our principles. You’re not going to be seduced by empty, meaningless, courteous pontifications, by international bureaucracies. And I like that.

RAY SUAREZ: But Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee returned to Bolton’s past statements, specifically about North Korea and the dissension they caused inside the State Department.

SEN. LINCOLN CHAFEE: You gave a speech that some would say undermined the stated policy of the State Department at the time. There was a bit of a dispute with Mr. Pritchard and him saying those were your own personal views. Ultimately he resigned. Why would Mr. Pritchard take exception to that?

JOHN BOLTON: Probably…

SEN. LINCOLN CHAFEE: His position at the time was special envoy for negotiations with North Korea. He’s the point man.

JOHN BOLTON: Probably for the same reason he resigned from the administration. I don’t think he agreed with the president’s policy. I respect Mr. Pritchard, but I don’t think he agreed with the president’s policy.

SEN. LINCOLN CHAFEE: Well, the ramifications from that dispute were that at the time some of the top diplomats in China were saying that the United States does not have a negotiating strategy and they considered the United States the main obstacle — these are their quotes — to “Washington’s negative policy towards North Korea is an impediment,” so the ramifications of this dispute seem to be impeding our progress as we try and work with North Korea.

JOHN BOLTON: Well, I think that North Korea has taken exception to a number of things that we’ve said. They took exception to the president putting them in the axis of evil. Most recently, they took exception to Secretary Rice calling them an outpost of tyranny. I think that the fact is though that, as I say, the speech was in preparation for quite some time. It was known within the Department of State.

RAY SUAREZ: As the hearing began, Sen. Chafee had not decided whether to support Bolton. He calls himself inclined to vote for him. A “no” vote from Chafee could stall the nomination. Connecticut Democrat Christopher Dodd said Bolton would be disqualified if a particular allegation against him proves to be true.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: And that is the allegation that you tried to have two analysts removed from their jobs because you disagreed with their intelligence conclusions.

RAY SUAREZ: Chairman Lugar provided the background.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: The allegation has been made that in a speech that you were preparing for the AEI on Cuba that you wished to change some language and the analyst, Christian Westerman, the analyst, refused to change the language.

You were talking about biological warfare in Cuba. Your suggestions for change were not accepted. The speech, therefore, did not have words that you wanted, but it had the official interpretation.

JOHN BOLTON: I never sought to have Mr. Westerman fired at all. And in fact, you have e-mail from the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for the Intelligence Research Bureau the day of the conversation, Tom Finger. His e-mail to me that day said that Mr. Westerman’s behavior was, and I quote, “entirely inappropriate.”

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: We’ve talked to Thomas Finger who is presently the assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research. We’ve talked to your acting chief of staff, a Mr. Flights. We have reports at least about the Neal Silver conversation. We’ve also spoken with Carl Ford. We’ve talked with Stewart Cohen, former chair of the National Intelligence Council, and the former boss of the nameless NIO and every one of those instances, they claim independently that you asked for this man, Mr. Westerman or this NIO to be removed from their job. Every one of them have said this. These are your people in some cases who’ve said it. I’ll quote them for you here.

JOHN BOLTON: Senator, that’s one reason why I’d like all these transcripts to be released.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, I’ve asked unanimous consent they’d all be laid out there. So, I’m going to ask you once again, did you ask for these two people to be removed from their jobs?

JOHN BOLTON: No. I said that I wanted the — in the case of Mr. Westerman, that I lost trust in him and thought he should work on other accounts.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: What other portfolio did he have? What’s his portfolio?

JOHN BOLTON: I don’t know what his portfolio was.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: He has one portfolio: Biological weapons and chemical weapons.

JOHN BOLTON: If you say so, Senator. I don’t know what his portfolio is.

RAY SUAREZ: Democrats pressed Bolton on this issue throughout the day. Other witnesses are expected to be called to give their version of what happened. Adding to the long day in the hearing room was a brief delay caused by a group of well organized demonstrators voicing their opposition to John Bolton. They were removed without incident.