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Walk Softly and Carry a Rubber Stick

"While the U.N. is an important part of multilateralism, which is essential to U.S. foreign policy, it's very difficult to get strong resolutions passed," Danforth said. "It's built for compromise and it's built for wordsmithing. It's difficult to create real policies because of the ornate structure of multilateralism, at least the U.N.'s version of it."

The challenges of advancing U.S. foreign policy goals have been complicated by the lingering resentment toward the Bush administration for invading Iraq without an explicit Security Council endorsement. But the United States has also been constrained by the ability of blocs of small countries to thwart initiatives that Washington supports in the United Nations' myriad bodies.

Quirky rules on use of the limousine irritate U.N. Ambassador John C. Danforth: "There is an ethical way for my wife to go to a reception here at the mission and an unethical way." (Karel Prinsloo -- AP)

In Profile

John C. Danforth

Title: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Education: Bachelor's degree, Princeton University; bachelor of divinity, Yale Divinity School; law degree, Yale Law School.

Age: 68.

Family: Married; five children, 13 grandchildren.

Career highlights: Partner, law firm of Bryan Cave; special envoy for peace to Sudan (appointed by President Bush in 2001); Republican senator; attorney general of Missouri (elected 1968 and 1972); ordained Episcopal priest.

Pastimes: Fly-fishing, St. Louis Cardinals baseball.

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A group of African countries, led by South Africa, used a procedural motion this week to prevent a vote in the 191-member U.N. General Assembly on a U.S.-backed European Union resolution condemning Sudan for committing human rights abuses. "One wonders about the utility of the General Assembly on days like this," Danforth told reporters Tuesday. "One wonders, if there can't be a clear and direct statement on matters of basic principle, why have this building? What are we all about?" One of Danforth's chief priorities -- expanding the U.N. presence throughout Iraq -- has been hampered by Secretary General Kofi Annan's reluctance to send U.N. officials into harm's way there. But Annan recently agreed to raise the staff ceiling in Baghdad from 35 to 59 to prepare for Jan. 30 elections. A contingent of several dozen Fijian peacekeepers is preparing to go to Baghdad to provide security for U.N. personnel.

Shortly after his arrival, Danforth began canvassing senior diplomats to support an effort to combat a growing scourge: the rise of religious extremism in conflict. "Now obviously religion is more the problem than the answer in today's world," Danforth said. "Trying to bridge the religious divide is something that is very important in managing conflict, so I've had this notion that there should be some sort of facility for mediating religious disputes."

The initiative ran up against immediate opposition from key Security Council members, who argued that religion should be kept out of that body.

"I think it's really not an idea whose time has come," he said.

Danforth has struggled to address Sudan. He has helped draw international attention to the crises there, convening a rare Security Council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, last week to prod the government and the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army to sign an agreement to end the 21-year civil war.

He has also secured passage of two Security Council resolutions that threatened sanctions against Sudan's oil industry if Khartoum failed to rein in government-sponsored Arab militia responsible for killing thousands of black African civilians in the Darfur region and driving more than 1.8 million from their homes. As a result of Danforth's prodding, the council has established a commission of inquiry to determine if the perpetrators of such crimes committed genocide and approved the deployment of 3,500 African peacekeepers in Darfur to restore calm.

But the effort has, so far, failed to halt the violence. And Danforth has been unable to persuade Sudan's closest allies on the council, especially China, to carry out the threat of sanctions against Khartoum.

"Are we leaning on a rubber stick? Sure," Danforth said. "We are doing the best that we can with that particular tool."

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