Aggressive pursuit of Bush agenda came first for Bolton at U.N.

Tuesday, December 5th 2006, 4:50 am
By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) When U.S. Ambassador John Bolton took over the presidency of the U.N. Security Council in February, he started meetings promptly at 10 a.m. even if some seats were empty and kept a list of latecomers, not the usual diplomatic behavior.

For Bolton, the fine points of diplomacy took a back seat to his aggressive pursuit of President Bush's global agenda. Those efforts ranged from pressing for sanctions against North Korea and Iran to installing U.N. peacekeepers in conflict-wracked Darfur and overhauling the 61-year-old United Nations so it can meet the challenges of the 21st century.

He arrived at the United Nations in August 2005, a controversial figure appointed by Bush during a Congressional recess because he twice failed to be confirmed by the Senate. He resigned Monday still a controversial figure, admired for his negotiating skills and for making the 15-member council more punctual but criticized for his style.

Tanzania's U.N. Ambassador Augustine Mahiga called Bolton's approach "sometimes abrasive'' and "too rigid'' and said it provoked "unnecessary controversies'' and made compromise and consensus difficult.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose strained relations with Bolton were no secret, reacted coolly to his resignation, saying he "did the job he was expected to do.''

Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown, the target of stinging criticism from Bolton, made his delight clear, telling reporters seeking reaction: "No comment, and you can say he said it with a smile.''

In June, Bolton said Malloch Brown made "a very, very grave mistake'' by criticizing the United States for its policy of "stealth diplomacy," relying on the U.N. for many things but refusing to defend the organization to Americans. In September, Bolton charged that Malloch Brown had brought "great discredit'' to the U.N. for criticizing U.S. and British diplomacy over Darfur.

Mahiga said Bolton "raised red flags'' soon after his arrival when he proposed over 40 amendments to the draft text of a declaration to be issued by world leaders at the September 2005 U.N. summit, "almost overlooking entirely the millennium development goals.'' The goals, which are a top priority for the developing world, include cutting extreme poverty by half and ensuring universal primary education by 2015.

Fortunately, Mahiga said, Bush reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the goals in his speech to the summit "but that took a lot of time, and that set the tone of future relations between the members of the United Nations and Mr. Bolton.''

The 58-year-old arms control expert with a distinctive white walrus mustache came to the job with a reputation for brilliance, obstinacy and speaking his mind and a mission to reform the United Nations. Bolton loves to spar with U.N. reporters, sometimes several times a day.

But Mahiga, who is finishing a two-year term on the council, said Bolton's rush to the microphone after council meetings created "uneasiness'' among members because it "appeared like upstaging'' the council president for the month who traditionally speaks first.

The Chinese, Greek and Argentine ambassadors agreed that Bolton's effort to reform the Security Council's operations has had one lasting effect, meetings now start on time.

During Bolton's presidency, ambassadors would rush by reporters saying they didn't want to be late. Bolton also insisted the U.N. Secretariat give the council a briefing every morning on a key U.N. issue, but that policy has not survived him.

Argentina's U.N. Ambassador Cesar Mayoral cited Bolton for his efforts to make the council's selection of the new secretary-general more open and transparent and to make a choice earlier to allow for a transition.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said Bolton has changed the council "because his style is different,'' and expressed regret that he is leaving, despite differences on some issues.

Was Bolton effective in pushing the U.S. foreign policy agenda?

"He's serious about the American objectives here in reforming the United Nations,'' Wang replied, "and he pushed hard, but of course sometimes in order to achieve the objectives you have to work together with others.''

Bolton antagonized the powerful Group of 77, which represents 132 mainly developing countries and China, by leading other wealthy countries who pay about 85 percent of the U.N.'s budget to impose a cap on budget spending in December 2005 to press for U.N. management reforms. On June 30, the poorer nations rebelled and voted in the General Assembly, where there are no vetoes, to lift the budget cap.

In the past, the U.N. budget had always been adopted by consensus and forcing a vote polarized the debate over reform between developing and developed countries, a north-south divide that still lingers.

Bolton remains frustrated that "precious little'' reform has been accomplished so far by the . General Assembly though some diplomats, especially from developing countries, would at least partly blame his blunt tactics.

Mahiga said Bolton will be remembered "for his principled stand on various issues, but at the same time, he was a person who could have done it differently in order to minimize the negative perceptions of the positions of the United States over certain issues.''

But Bolton did play a key role in major U.S. foreign policy initiatives, getting Security Council approval of resolutions imposing sanctions on North Korea for conducting a nuclear test, joining with France to promote Lebanon's democratic government, pushing for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Sudan's conflict-wracked Darfur region, and putting Myanmar's repressive military regime on the council's agenda.

Japan's U.N. Ambassador Kenzo Oshima, a staunch U.S. supporter in the budget cap battle, said "John Bolton had his own style.''

"He is a superb lawyer and a very skillful and strong negotiator. And I think he did his best in getting results delivered on a number of issues,'' Oshima said.

Qatar's U.N. Ambassador Nassir Al-Nasser, who often opposed the U.S. on Lebanon, Sudan and Palestinian-Israeli issues, said Bolton "represents his country as a very tough negotiator and high-skilled diplomat. He did a great job.''