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As Bolton Battle Continues, A Steady Hand at the U.N.

Anne W. Patterson has drawn praise as acting U.S. ambassador to the U.N. while John R. Bolton awaits confirmation.
Anne W. Patterson has drawn praise as acting U.S. ambassador to the U.N. while John R. Bolton awaits confirmation. (By Kathy Willens -- Associated Press)

Patterson follows a succession of career diplomats who have served extended stints in the country's most visible diplomatic job outside Washington. A. Peter Burleigh served from September 1998 to August 1999 as the Clinton administration's top representative to the United Nations, filling in for Richard C. Holbrooke as he struggled through a protracted confirmation battle. James B. Cunningham ran the mission for about nine months in 2001 as congressional Democrats probed Bush's first U.N. ambassador, John D. Negroponte, about U.S. human rights policy in Honduras in the 1980s.

Like her predecessors, Patterson generally prefers operating below the radar screen, and she declined to be interviewed for this article. An aide said she did not want to be seen trying to grab the spotlight while her future boss is struggling through a bruising confirmation hearing.

Burleigh and other U.S. officials said the mission's deputy chief traditionally avoids the limelight, noting that any attempts to compete for attention with senior political appointees can damage a career. After serving at the United Nations, both Burleigh and Cunningham were blocked in Congress, for assignments in the Philippines and Vienna. Their troubles have given way to concern that the job may be cursed.

"There is a constant worry about a misstep," Burleigh said. "It would make a good story to say there was a curse, but I don't think so. But I suppose maybe we'll find out if Anne Patterson has problems in the future."

At the United Nations, Patterson has wielded America's diplomatic club with finesse. Syrian U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad, for instance, said he did not take it personally when she lectured his country for meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs.

"I know Anne Patterson very well; she's a nice person," Mekdad said. "Whenever we meet, we know that there are differences and we agreed that these differences should not interfere with our personal relations."

Patterson has also demonstrated a willingness to compromise, supporting a politically controversial decision to allow the Security Council to grant the International Criminal Court, which the United States opposes, a mandate to investigate war crimes by Sudanese officials in Darfur.

U.N. officials say they question whether a bargain could have been struck with Bolton, the Bush administration's most vocal critic of the international court. They also wonder whether her role in the deal would make it difficult for her to work with Bolton.

A U.S. spokesman at the United Nations said Patterson has no intention of leaving if Bolton is confirmed, but other officials say that she has shown interest in moving on. Mel Levitsky, a former U.S. ambassador who has known Patterson for years, said she has an interest in becoming the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, a post that frequently goes to political appointees.

"There is a natural tension between political appointees and career appointees and she absolutely bridged that," said Christopher Burnham, a former senior State Department official who oversees the U.N. department of administration. "I believe so strongly in Anne's talents that I hope that she will either stay on, or that the president will ask her to take on new and important responsibilities in Washington. I think it's important that this administration not lose a woman of such capability."

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