Bolton, Nominee To UN Defends record In Senate Panel Hearing

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
John R. Bolton on Monday during his confirmation hearing

Nominee to U.N. Defends Record at Senate Panel
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN

WASHINGTON, April 11 – John R. Bolton, rebutting attacks from Democrats on his fitness to serve as ambassador to the United Nations, pledged Monday to bring about a "close partnership" with the organization and denied ever trying to get anyone dismissed for disagreeing with him on intelligence matters.

In his confirmation hearing, Mr. Bolton appeared to have reassured the one doubting Republican with his answers and bolstered his prospects of approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, possibly this week. In that case, a favorable vote in the full Senate would then appear nearly certain.

Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a Republican who had questioned Mr. Bolton’s qualifications and investigated his record during the hearing, said after the morning session that he was generally satisfied with Mr. Bolton’s answers and that he was still "inclined" to vote to approve him, a step that would probably send the nomination to the Senate even if all the Democrats voted no.

Mr. Chafee did say that Mr. Bolton would not have been his own choice for the job.

Mr. Chafee will not make a final decision until he hears testimony on Tuesday about disputes with other officials over how Mr. Bolton dealt with intelligence matters, a spokesman for the senator said Monday evening.

Mr. Bolton, an outspoken conservative who has served since 2001 as under secretary of state for arms control and international security, calmly defended criticizing the United Nations and tangling with intelligence officials over how to describe Cuba’s suspected biological weapons program.

He acknowledged that he had sought to have intelligence officials reassigned – one at the State Department and one at the National Intelligence Council, an advisory group that produces the government’s formal intelligence assessments. But Mr. Bolton said he acted because they had tried to undercut his authority, not out of disagreement on the intelligence.

Democrats viewed Mr. Bolton’s defense with skepticism and promised to explore the intelligence issue further. Their star witness, Carl W. Ford Jr., a former State Department official who clashed with Mr. Bolton in 2002 on Cuba, is to testify Tuesday.

Mr. Bolton sought to turn his criticism of the United Nations to his advantage, saying his views made him the right person to help restore credibility to the organization and make it more effective.

"If confirmed, I look forward to working closely with this committee to forge a stronger relationship between the United States and the United Nations, which depends critically on American leadership," Mr. Bolton said. "Such leadership, in turn, must rest on broad, bipartisan support in Congress. It must be earned by putting to rest skepticism that so many feel about the U.N. system."

He added that despite his reputation for strong words, he also had a record of diplomatic success in matters including rallying countries to combat nuclear weapons proliferation, and to renegotiate a nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, skills he would use to expand the consensus of support for the United Nations at home.

Several senators asked Mr. Bolton about past statements that contrasted with current administration policies, such as his ridiculing of the Law of the Sea Treaty and especially his support for granting United Nations membership to Taiwan over China’s objections.

"I don’t back away from the opinion, but time and tide have moved," he said when Mr. Chafee asked about Taiwan. "I’m not a golfer, but I think the metaphor is, ‘You have to play it as it lays.’ And I know what the president’s policy is, and I’m prepared to follow it."

At another point, Mr. Bolton said that he would be "hard-wired" to faithfully present administration views and that he understood that official statements made at the United Nations "are actually written here in Washington."

Led by Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Democratic senators said Mr. Ford and several administration officials interviewed by the committee staff in the last few days had told them that Mr. Bolton tried to intimidate people who disagreed with him on intelligence matters.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut quoted one official interviewed as saying that Mr. Bolton had dismissed the views of an intelligence official as that of "a midlevel INR munchkin analyst," a reference to Christian Westermann, an intelligence official at the State Department, and his place of work, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department.

At issue was a 2002 speech by Mr. Bolton in which he tried to get clearance for strong wording, based on classified intelligence reports, on Cuba’s suspected biological weapons program. Mr. Westermann, the Democrats said, disagreed with Mr. Bolton’s categorical assertion that such a program existed and proposed more tentative language.

Mr. Bolton said several times under questioning that it was not Mr. Westermann’s views that troubled him, but that Mr. Westermann had sought clearance from others in the intelligence community of his substitute wording, apparently without Mr. Bolton’s knowledge.

"Senator, he wasn’t straight with me," Mr. Bolton told Mr. Dodd. The nominee said that he went to Mr. Westermann’s superiors to ask what was happening and that the acting head of the bureau eventually said Mr. Westermann’s behavior was "entirely inappropriate." Mr. Dodd joined Senator Barbara Boxer of California in questioning whether Mr. Bolton’s anger over Mr. Westermann’s performance raised doubts about his temperament as an envoy dealing with countries with whom the United States has disagreements.

Mr. Bolton responded that his record proved that he could be a successful diplomat. He said some of his well-known comments, such as declaring that the United Nations, in effect, did not exist or that several floors of its headquarters could be lopped off without being missed, were simply an attempt at persuasion with rhetoric.

The statement several years ago that the United Nations "does not exist" was an example, he said, of "the fallacy of false concreteness" – a phrase he used repeatedly during the hearing, in the sense that the United Nations as a body did not exist apart from the strength or frailty of its members and that American leadership was essential to making it work.

Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, joined with Mr. Chafee in wondering if a speech by Mr. Bolton, in which he vilified the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in personal terms, undercut the attempt to solve the problem of its nuclear program by diplomacy.

Mr. Bolton said top administration officials had cleared his speech.

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