Holbrooke climbs back onto political ladder with UN post

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TWO US officials took steps up the ladder of political power yesterday, with expectations high that both are set for greater things.

Richard Holbrooke, the diplomatic troubleshooter who brokered the Dayton accord in Bosnia, is to be America's new ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr Holbrooke, a pugnacious and doughty fighter, is regarded by his opponents as a publicity seeker and a bull in a china shop.

He is particularly unpopular with European officials who dealt with Bosnia. They say Mr Holbrooke railroaded them into ideas they did not support and ignored their opinions.

But his supporters point out that European officials had failed dismally to do anything to end the fighting in Bosnia, and that fine manners and elegant turns of phrase did little to convince President Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr Holbrooke has been working for a bank for the past few years, since supposedly retiring from his job as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs in 1996.

In practice, he has frequently been on call for the State Department for every situation, from Bosnia to Cyprus. The post of UN ambassador is a cabinet job, the latest advance for a man who first held office under President Carter in the 1970s.

Mr Holbrooke was a candidate to be Secretary of State to President Clinton, and may yet hold that job if and when Vice-President Al Gore becomes President in 2000.

Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State, was reportedly wary of bringing in Mr Holbrooke at such a senior level. There is a risk that he will develop as a rival to her. Mr Holbrooke will arrive in New York at a key time, when the UN is preparing a resolution on the war in Kosovo.

Bill Richardson, Mr Holbrooke's predecessor at the UN, becomes Energy Secretary. It is speculated that the former New Mexico Congressman could be a candidate for governor of his native state, and is even mentioned as a possible vice-Presidential candidate to Mr Gore. Despite his name, he is one of the few Hispanic Americans to gain a cabinet post.