Bush's choice for UN faces bullying claims

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The Independent US

President George Bush's controversial choice for America's ambassador to the UN faces possible rejection at Senate confirmation hearings next week as Democrats explore allegations that he bullied US officials into supporting Washington's foreign policy positions.

President George Bush's controversial choice for America's ambassador to the UN faces possible rejection at Senate confirmation hearings next week as Democrats explore allegations that he bullied US officials into supporting Washington's foreign policy positions.

Hearings into the nomination of John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control who has a record of harsh criticism of the UN, were due to start last Thursday but were postponed because some members of the Foreign Relations Committee were travelling to Rome for the papal funeral.

But more serious trouble is now brewing with the nomination after Democrats on the committee who oppose him began researching claims that Mr Bolton may have more than once pressured officials at the State Department to support administration views on Iraq and other issues.

Chaired by the Republican senator Richard Lugar, the Foreign Relations Committee will begin three days of hearings into Mr Bolton's nomination on Monday. In a minority of eight members to 10, all its Democrats will vote against him and must pick up one Republican vote to quash his UN hopes.

All eyes are on the moderate Republican from Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, who has indicated that he is under pressure from his constituents to vote against Mr Bolton, a darling of conservatives in Washington. Senator Chafee's aides said yesterday that he remained undecided on what to do.

A collapse of Mr Bolton's nomination still seems unlikely. Were it to happen, however, it would be sure to enrage conservatives in the capital and would represent an embarrassing foreign relations set-back for President Bush at a time when his approval rating in the country is slipping badly.

In a highly unusual departure from tradition, the State Department has voiced its support for Mr Bolton. "We're working and co-operating very closely with the committee," said a spokesman, Richard Boucher. "But we do note these are old stories. They've been looked into in the past, discussed in the past, and we don't see any grounds for questioning his nomination."

Among those accusing Mr Bolton is Carl Ford, a former chief at the department's bureau of intelligence. He is expected to tell the committee that Mr Bolton distorted intelligence gathered on Iraq's weapons programmes and other matters to make it fit the administration's goals.

Senators will also hear allegations made by another State Department official, Christian Westermann, that Mr Bolton ignored his advice that testimony he was about to make to Congress two years ago warning that Cuba was developing biological weapons went beyond available evidence.

Even before these questions about Mr Bolton surfaced, there was widespread consternation at his choice, given his well-known record of disdain for the UN and lack of enthusiasm for multilateralism.

Ten years ago he told a conference that "if the UN building in New York lost 10 storeys, it wouldn't make a bit of difference". More recently he suggested that if the membership of the Security Council were to be changed, "I'd have one permanent member, because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world."

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