Bolton is forced to quit UN ambassador post

Rupert Cornwell
Tuesday 05 December 2006 01:00

The White House bowed to the inevitable yesterday and announced the resignation of John Bolton, the controversial US ambassador to the United Nations whose position had been made all but impossible by the Democrats' midterm election victory.

The exit of Mr Bolton, celebrated for his abrasive manner, hardnosed championing of US interests and thinly veiled scorn for the UN, will see few tears shed in New York ­ even though some diplomats there claimed to detect a softening in his style of late.

But, in a statement, the White House expressed its "deep regret" at his departure, citing his efforts to build Security Council coalitions to block the development of nuclear weapons by North Korea and Iraq. "I'm not happy about it," President Bush said as he met the outgoing ambassador at the White House a few hours later, adding that Mr Bolton had "done a fabulous job for his country."

Never confirmed by the Senate in a vote, Mr Bolton only held his post thanks to a Presidential "recess appointment" that expired at the end of the current Congress, and which cannot be repeated. After the 7 November vote, the administration said it would resubmit the nomination for approval by the lame-duck Congress, still under Republican control.

But that plan was scotched when a key Republican Senator on the Foreign Affairs committee vowed to oppose him, and Joe Biden, the Delaware Democrat who will lead the Committee from January, bluntly told the White House there was "no point" in persisting.

Mr Bolton is the second senior official to quit since the election, following on the heels of Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who resigned on 8 November.

He made his reputation as a driving hardliner in the arms control and national security areas at the State Department, championing neo-conservative ideas and clashing frequently with its former Secretary, Colin Powell. His successor, Condoleezza Rice, pushed for Mr Bolton's move to the UN.

But that was controversial from the outset, given Mr Bolton's record of contempt for the world body ­ including the observation that it " wouldn't make a bit of difference" if 10 storeys were lopped off its 38-storey East Side headquarters. His pressure for reform enraged Third World countries, and brought him into conflict with top UN officials.

Yesterday, these latter showed scant regret at his leaving. "He did the job he was expected to do," Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, who himself steps down at the end of the year, noted drily. Asked for his reaction, Mark Malloch Brown, the deputy Secretary General who has been a special foe of Mr Bolton, replied when asked to comment on the resignation: "No comment ­ and you can say he said it with a smile."

Possible successors include Zalmay Khalilzad, currently the US ambassador in Baghdad, and Nicholas Burns, the No 3 official at the State Department. The former Democratic Senate majority leader George Mitchell is also said to be a candidate.

Meanwhile, Mr Bush held talks in the Oval Office yesterday with Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the largest Shia party in the Iraqi parliament, and on occasion a rival of Nouri al-Maliki, the present Prime Minister. The meeting was a sign of how the White House is being dragged into the intricacies of internal Iraqi politics.

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