Leading article: Mr Bolton makes a bad start to his new job

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Not all the amendments to next month's draft agreement proposed by Mr Bolton are unreasonable. Few would argue, for example, that in the wake of the Iraq oil-for-food scandal and the revelations of sexual abuses by UN peacekeepers that the bureaucratic structures of the UN are not sorely in need of radical reform. And it is true the UN Human Rights Commission has lost all credibility by including nations such as Sudan and Libya and ought to be dissolved and replaced. The US is also justified in calling for a stronger stance against terrorism and the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons.

But most of Mr Bolton's negotiating demands are deeply depressing and demonstrate the extent to which the US administration has become an obstruction to effective multilateral action. For instance, the US wants to scrap any reference to the International Criminal Court, despite the fact that this would be invaluable in bringing brutal dictators and mass murderers to account. Mr Bolton also opposes the wording in the draft report that urges the five permanent members of the Security Council not to cast their vetoes to halt resolutions against genocide, war crimes or ethnic cleansing. So much for the tough talk of the Bush administration on dealing with the "genocide" occurring in Darfur.

There is also US opposition to the provisions in the draft agreement supporting a moratorium on nuclear testing and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Such a cavalier approach to nuclear proliferation when it impinges on the United States' freedom of action will not have escaped the notice of the regime in Iran. Also Mr Bolton opposes anything in the draft agreement that refers to the need for action to forestall climate change.

Most reprehensible of all of Mr Bolton's objections are those concerning global poverty. Next month's summit in New York was called as a follow up to the millennium summit of five years ago in which the international community made a laudable commitment to tackle lethal poverty and preventable diseases in the word's poorest countries. It now seems Mr Bolton wants to tear up that seminal signal of intent. He would like to drop the pledge by all rich nations to devote 0.7 per cent of their GNP to international aid. He also regards the draft agreement's section on poverty as "too long" and would like more emphasis on "free-market reforms" in developing nations.

Mr Bolton is unlikely to get all his demands next month. But their bullying toneis sadly familiar and recalls the worst excesses of the first-term Bush administration. It is also telling that no mention is made of perhaps the most pressing question that will be on the table next month -the broadening of the Security Council. If the US were serious about making the UN a more accountable and effective organisation, this would head Mr Bolton's list of priorities. Instead of genuine engagement with reform, we have childish threats to withhold funding from the UN unless the US gets its way. If Mr Bolton's negotiating tactics so far are anything to judge by, the summit is likely to be a deep disappointment.