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Former Ambassador in Line for U.N. Post
Bush Likely to Tap Negroponte, Onetime Aide to Powell, to Replace Holbrooke

John D. Negroponte served as ambassador to Mexico under President Bush's father, former president George H.W. Bush. (File Photo - Reuters)

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By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2001; Page A04

John D. Negroponte, who served as U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines before retiring from the foreign service in 1997, is President Bush's leading candidate for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, according to diplomats and officials familiar with the appointments process.

Negroponte, 61, was Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's deputy when Powell served as White House national security adviser at the end of the Reagan administration. If confirmed by the Senate, Negroponte would take the U.N. job vacated by Richard C. Holbrooke -- his roommate when both held junior positions at the U.S. embassy in Saigon in the mid-1960s.

"If it's true" that Negroponte has been chosen, "I'm delighted," Holbrooke said. "He's a superb professional diplomat."

Other contenders previously mentioned for the U.N. ambassadorship include former assistant secretary of state John Bolton, former ambassador to Britain Raymond Seitz and onetime Republican presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole.

After the quick nomination and confirmation of his Cabinet, Bush's appointments have slowed to a trickle; although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has received several "intent to nominate" notices for State Department officials, including Richard L. Armitage as deputy secretary, Marc Grossman as undersecretary for political affairs and Richard N. Haass as director of policy planning -- all of whom have been named publicly -- there are no pending nominations awaiting Senate confirmation.

Sources close to the process said the administration is still going through a period of horse-trading in which Powell's desire to increase the number of career foreign service personnel in senior positions is being balanced against the political demands and desires of the new administration. New appointments are reportedly being held up until a group can be announced simultaneously.

The U.N. ambassadorship is among the most senior appointments still to be made.

Since leaving government in 1997, Negroponte has been executive vice president for global markets for the McGraw-Hill Cos. in New York. He commutes from Washington, where he lives with his wife, Diane, and five children.

After Negroponte graduated from Yale, the early part of his career was focused on Asia. After an initial stint in Hong Kong, he was assigned to the political section of the embassy in Saigon, where in 1965 he was asked to brief then-Harvard professor Henry Kissinger. By 1970, he was working as a Kissinger aide on President Richard M. Nixon's White House staff.

Negroponte, a member of the U.S. delegation to the Paris peace talks, eventually fell into disfavor with Kissinger after pointing out what he viewed as flaws in the agreement with Hanoi, according to various accounts from the period. He returned to the State Department and eventually took a diplomatic position at the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador.

When Alexander Haig became secretary of state in 1981, Negroponte was tapped as ambassador to Honduras, fast becoming the military training and logistical base for the U.S.-backed contra war against neighboring Nicaragua's Sandinista National Liberation Front. The effort came under harsh criticism and congressional investigation as part of the Iran-contra scandal, when it was revealed that White House aide Oliver North had orchestrated the purchase of arms for the contras with funds from secret arms sales to Iran.

Further controversy later erupted following allegations that Honduran military death squads had eliminated contra opponents during Negroponte's embassy tenure. Although he was unanimously approved by the Senate as ambassador to Mexico in 1989, the committee vote was held up for a time while senators questioned him closely about his knowledge and potential role in persuading Honduras to support the U.S. efforts in Nicaragua. The United States refused to allow Negroponte to testify at mid-1990s hearings by a Honduran commission investigating the killings.

The Mexico appointment came after Negroponte had returned to the White House as Powell's deputy. Relations with Mexico were strained, partly over allegations of Mexican ties to drug traffickers, during much of Negroponte's tenure there. But he also presided over negotiations that led to the NAFTA trade agreement and left amid expressions of respect from the Mexican government.

Following three years as then-President Clinton's ambassador to the Philippines, Negroponte's last official post was special coordinator with Panama. His effort to negotiate a continued U.S. military presence and counter-narcotics operation in Panama following the turnover of the Panama Canal ultimately failed, and all U.S. troops left the country 14 months ago.

Special correspondent Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company