President Bush's nominee to be U.N. ambassador told senators yesterday that his caustic criticism of the United Nations in a speech a decade ago was designed to get his audience's attention and that "the United States is committed to the success" of the international body.
In a day-long hearing, John R. Bolton repeatedly played down his previous jabs at the world body and pledged "to forge a stronger relationship between the United States and the United Nations, which depends critically on American leadership." Alluding to scandals and political stands that he and others have attacked, Bolton said, "We can take important steps to restore confidence in the United Nations."
John R. Bolton listens as a video showing him criticizing the United Nations is played at his confirmation hearing.
(Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
_____In Profile_____John R. Bolton
at 8:42 AM
Born: Nov. 20, 1948, in Baltimore.
Education: Bachelor's degree from Yale University, 1970; law degree from Yale Law School, 1974.
Experience: Undersecretary of state for arms control and international security since May 11, 2001; assistant attorney general, Department of Justice, 1985-1989; assistant administrator for program and policy coordination, U.S. Agency for International Development, 1982-1983; general counsel, U.S. Agency for International Development, 1981-1982; associate at the Washington office of Covington & Burling, 1974-81; partner in the law firm of Lerner, Reed, Bolton & McManus, 1993-99.
Family: Married to the former Gretchen Brainerd; one daughter.
Bolton spent much of the day defending his own controversial statements; he parried sharp questions from Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, several of whom said he is the wrong person for the job. Although Democrats complained that his answers were often evasive, Bolton appeared to survive the hearing with minor damage.
Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.), the panel's only Republican who was seen as a possible vote against Bolton, said he is inclined to support the nomination and send it to the full Senate, where the GOP holds a 55 to 45 edge.
Although Chafee told reporters that he would have preferred another nominee, he said, "I don't think the Democrats have made as strong a case [against Bolton] as I might have expected."
It wasn't for lack of trying. Democrats repeatedly pressed Bolton, 56, to explain his criticisms of the United Nations, including those from a fiery speech about 10 years ago to the World Federalists. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) played a three-minute video clip in which Bolton said that "there's no such thing as the United Nations," and that if 10 floors of the 38-story U.N. headquarters building were eliminated, "it wouldn't make a bit of difference."
Bolton told Boxer: "What I was trying to do at that audience of World Federalists was get their attention. And the comment about the 10 stories was a way of saying there's not a bureaucracy in the world that can't be made leaner and more efficient."
"Well, that isn't what you said," Boxer replied. She told the committee, "I'm bewildered by this nomination."
Democrats also pressed Bolton to explain a 2002 incident involving a speech about Cuba. Bolton, who at the time held his current job of undersecretary of state for arms control, planned to announce that Cuba had a secret bioweapons program, although several intelligence officials considered the evidence ambiguous. Christian Westermann, the State Department's chief bioweapons analyst, refused to approve the language and recommended changes. Bolton berated him and tried to have him removed from his post.
Democrats said yesterday that Bolton wrongly tried to fire Westermann for refusing to back a questionable claim that Bolton wanted to make. Bolton said he merely wanted the official to work elsewhere because Westermann had inappropriately shared his concerns about the speech with others, and therefore "I'd lost trust and confidence in him."
Democrats said the episode carries echoes of failed U.S. intelligence reports regarding Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Overstating unverified security concerns "is one of the things that got us in trouble in Iraq," Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) told Bolton.
Bolton said Westermann's superior -- Thomas Fingar, now head of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research -- sent Bolton an e-mail at the time saying that Westermann's behavior had been "entirely inappropriate" and that "we screwed up."
But Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) said that committee staffers recently interviewed Fingar about the incident and that Fingar said Westermann had not acted improperly or been disciplined. Dodd quoted Fingar as saying of Bolton: "I knew I was dealing with somebody who was very upset. I was trying to get the incident closed."
Fingar and others involved in the episode are scheduled to testify before the committee today.
Democrats also alleged, based on interviews with CIA officers and Bolton's chief of staff, that Bolton had sought removal of another official, the national intelligence officer responsible for Latin America, also as a result of his Cuba speech. The official had refused to clear congressional testimony Bolton was preparing in case he was called to appear at a hearing.
Bolton acknowledged that he raised the issue with Stuart A. Cohen, former acting director of the National Intelligence Council, during a visit to CIA headquarters in July 2002. Bolton said he tried to get the intelligence officer and Westermann reassigned, not fired. "I thought in both cases, if I may say so, their conduct was unprofessional and broke my confidence and trust," he said.
He said the disputes were over the analysts' behavior, not over their assessments. Neither official was reassigned, Democratic senators said.
Committee Republicans defended Bolton against many of the Democrats' accusations. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) noted that Bolton has won widespread praise for his leadership of the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led arrangement under which participating countries agree to search ships suspected of carrying illicit weapons. "That's part of your record of performance which I find very salutary," Allen said.
Bolton, under questioning from Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), acknowledged there were problems with congressional testimony he had planned to give in 2003 on Syria. "There were a lot of disagreements about the speech," Bolton said. "It was clear to me that more work needed to be done on it." Intelligence officials blocked the planned testimony, saying it painted an exaggerated and misleading portrait of Syria's threat.
In response to questions from Obama about Iran, Bolton's comments appeared to go beyond statements made by other administration officials. Bolton said that the "Iranian effort to achieve nuclear weapons constitutes a threat to international peace and security."
Official use of that language was rejected by State Department officials more than a year ago when it was first circulated in the agency, according to two U.S. officials, because it suggests that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, whereas the intelligence community is not certain. It also echoes language in the U.N. charter that authorizes the use of force in cases that are considered "threats to international peace and security."
For that reason, the State Department has authorized public references to Iran as a "growing threat" to peace and security.
Bolton, known for pushing hard-line approaches to North Korea's nuclear capabilities, blamed some policy disputes within the State Department on others. Regarding criticism of him by Charles L. Pritchard, Bush's former envoy on North Korea, Bolton said: "I respect Mr. Pritchard, but I don't think he agreed with the president's policy."