washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Bush Administration

Ambassador to Leave U.N. Job Next Month

Danforth Says He'll Spend Time With Wife

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2004; Page A14

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 2 -- John C. Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, resigned less than six months after taking the job, citing a desire to spend more time with his wife, Sally, who has undergone a painful recovery from a fall last year that left her ankle badly broken.

Danforth's decision to step down by Jan. 20 marks the end of one of the shortest tenures for a U.N. ambassador and leaves a key vacancy in the administration's foreign policy team. But it will provide Danforth with a last chance to achieve a top priority, overseeing the signing of a peace agreement ending a 21-year war between Sudan's Islamic government and Christian-backed Sudanese rebels by the end of the year.

Before leaving by Jan. 20, John C. Danforth plans to help broker a peace deal between Sudan's Islamic leaders and Christian-backed Sudanese rebels. (David Karp -- AP)

_____Crisis in Sudan_____
Q&A: Darfur A brief explanation of the issues and current humanitarian situation in Western Sudan.
Photos: Sudan's Rebels
Danforth Says He Left Position At U.N. for Personal Reasons (The Washington Post, Dec 4, 2004)
Darfurians Could Lose Land They Fled (The Washington Post, Dec 3, 2004)
For a Small Girl in Darfur, A Year of Fear and Flight (The Washington Post, Nov 26, 2004)
New Pilgrims, Familiar Dreams (The Washington Post, Nov 25, 2004)
Violence Fractures Cease-Fire In Sudan (The Washington Post, Nov 24, 2004)

President Bush selected Danforth, 68, in June to lead U.S. efforts to persuade the United Nations to expand its presence in Iraq and play a major role in the country's Jan. 30 elections. Danforth plans to depart 10 days before the Iraqi elections, in which the United Nations is playing a relatively marginal role.

Danforth was recently rumored as a replacement for Colin L. Powell as secretary of state, but Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was nominated. He viewed himself as an outsider in Washington and confessed to colleagues that he often bridled under the State Department's strict guidance on policy matters.

Danforth also expressed frustration at the difficulties of implementing policy at the United Nations, citing Security Council reluctance to impose sanctions on Sudan for engaging in mass killings in Darfur. "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 in a recent interview. "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."

Members of Danforth's staff said that they were stunned by his decision to return to St. Louis. "I didn't see it coming," one U.S. official said. But other administration officials said that Danforth was viewed as having a single strength -- his expertise on Sudan -- and that there was no future for him.

Danforth said in a recent interview that while he "admired" Bush and considers him a friend, they never had a close personal relationship and they rarely spoke while he was serving as U.N. ambassador. "I've known his family more than I've known him," Danforth said.

Danforth, an Episcopal minister, told Bush in a resignation letter dated Nov. 22 that he and his wife decided to return to private life "after a lot of thought and prayer."

"Forty-seven years ago, I married the girl of my dreams, and, at this point in my life, what is important is to spend more time with her," he wrote. "Because you know Sally, you know my reason for going home."

He also wrote: "I want you to know how much I appreciate the opportunity to serve the United States at the United Nations. It has been an important time to be in this position, especially as we attempt to enlist greater U.N. participation in the future of Iraq, and as we advance the interest you have personally shown in helping the desperate people of Sudan."

Danforth was elected to his first of three terms as U.S. senator from Missouri in 1976. His first major foray into foreign policy was on Sept. 6, 2001 -- five days before al Qaeda attacked the United States -- when Bush appointed him special envoy to Sudan.

Danforth told Bush he would be prepared to carry out special presidential missions in the future. "There may be occasions when I can serve you from St. Louis, as I did as your special envoy for peace in Sudan. If so, please don't hesitate to call."

Danforth hinted at his desire to leave government service in a recent interview, saying: "I'm not some government guy. Really, what I am is Sally Danforth's husband and a midwestern guy. And so in my own mind, I'm sort of on loan to do this for a little bit."

Staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company