Bush U.N. Pick Faces Detractors

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John R. Bolton, a blunt diplomat whose nomination as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. is opposed by most Democrats and some in the foreign policy establishment, pledged Monday to help strengthen an institution that has occasionally "gone off track."

The Bush administration is committed to the success of the U.N., Bolton, the undersecretary of state, said on the first day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He told lawmakers that "we view the U.N. as an important component of our diplomacy."

President Bush's selection of Bolton last month has stirred controversy because of his expressions of disdain for the United Nations and the blunt criticism he has leveled at North Korea and other countries and arms control treaties.

The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, expressed his "grave concern" about Bolton's nomination, citing doubts about his "diplomatic temperament," his statements about the U.N. and international laws and treaties, and his leadership on weapons threats in places like North Korea and Iran.

"In my judgment," Biden said, "your judgment about how to deal with the emerging threats have not been particularly useful."

Sen. George Allen, R-Va., however, called Bolton "the absolute perfect person for the job."

Bolton, 56, has served in the past three Republican administrations and been one of his party's strongest conservative voices on foreign affairs issues. He is now the administration's arms control chief.

"With hearings scheduled to continue in the afternoon, the outcome of the hearings is far from clear," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk. "Serious questions are being raised by committee members on both sides of the aisle and the key question will be how much the White House has at stake in placing a controversial and outspoken nominee in a very visible forum of U.S. policy.

Bolton was asked about the impact on American standing overseas of the flawed U.S. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — displayed with much fanfare at the U.N. by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. "Unquestionably the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has led some people to question our goodwill and credibility," Bolton responded.

He noted that the U.N. has both strengths and weaknesses and said that if confirmed he would try to help forge a stronger relationship between the United States and the United Nations, "which depends critically on American leadership." He said he aimed not just to promote American interests at the world body.

Bolton also took a critical tack, saying the U.N. General Assembly needs to focus more on human rights violators and international terrorism.

"We must work to galvanize the General Assembly to focus its attention on issues of true importance," he said.

"Sadly, there have been times when the General Assembly has gone off track," he added, citing the "abominable" resolution that equated Zionism with racism. It was repealed in 1991, with Bolton playing a leading role as a State Department official.