Sunday, September 18, 2005

NYT on Bolton post UN reform summit meeting

Warren Hoge has this article, "Bolton and UN are still standing after his first test," in the Sunday, September 18, 2005 NYT on evaluations of John Bolton's performance by other participants in the UN summit meetings of September 14-16, 2005. The article makes note of the number of ambassadors who found him essentially a tough negotiator, not the nemesis made out by, among other venues, the NYT, not a squishy world federalist of course, but essentially a tough negotiator. Excerpts:

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 17 - When President Bush greeted Secretary General Kofi Annan on Wednesday, he gestured toward John R. Bolton, the United States ambassador, and asked, "Has the place blown up since he's been here?"

The internal United Nations television sound boom that picked up the jest did not record any response from the Secretary General, who simply smiled.

But the same question, in less explosive form, has been posed repeatedly around the United Nations since the Aug. 1 arrival of Mr. Bolton, who famously once said that the headquarters building was filled with such sloth and incompetence that it would not matter if 10 of its 38 floors were lopped off.

In response, his fellow ambassadors say they are impressed with Mr. Bolton's work ethic, his knowledge of his brief, his clarity in declaring it and his toughness as a negotiator.

In the three weeks of intensive negotiations on the document approved Friday night by the 153 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs here for the summit conference on global poverty and United Nations reform, he was in his chair at 8 a.m. and often still there when the meetings adjourned at 1 a.m.

Some delegates, however, faulted him for emphasizing what the United States would never accept, saying it ended up encouraging more active opposition to American positions.
They complained that he devoted too much time to talking about the American "red lines" and about the red pen he had in his pocket at the ready.

Those diplomats who feared that Mr. Bolton came with devil's horns thought they saw them spring forth three weeks ago when he submitted more than 400 substantive amendments and deletions and ordered up a line-by-line renegotiation of the summit document.

One of the recommendations was to eliminate all mention of a series of antipoverty measures called the millennium development goals.

The surprise attack on a cherished standard sent shock waves across the United Nations where officials had grown hopeful that the Bush administration's hostility to the United Nations had significantly lessened, particularly after supportive comments from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and State Department opposition to calls for the United States to withhold its United Nations dues.

A week later, the phrase was restored at Ms. Rice's direction, and on Wednesday, President Bush declared in his speech to the General Assembly, "We are committed to the millennium development goals."

So a question arose about whether Mr. Bolton had been carrying out the traditional mission of executing State Department policy or originating his own more assertive view.

R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, denied in an interview that there was any disconnect with Washington, and he noted that he had been in touch with Mr. Bolton every day.

"We set out from the month of April a very well-defined set of objectives as to what we wanted to achieve by the September summit," Mr. Burns said. "The policy was consistent, and when John became ambassador, he was fully involved in that policy and very much represented the views of our government."

John G. Ruggie, a professor of international relations at Harvard and a former under secretary general for planning, said he thought Mr. Bolton's approach had emboldened opponents of American priorities, like reforming the United Nations management structure to give more power and flexibility to the Secretary General.

"After Bolton's bombshell, they were able to make the case that this is why we have to stand firm, because if we give great discretionary authority to the Secretary General, there is a danger that the Americans will roll over him, and behind him always stands the Congress willing to withhold funding," he said.

Mr. Bolton said his purpose in calling for a line-by-line renegotiation was to avoid having a text by "nameless, faceless textwriters," a reference to the writing staff of the General Assembly president, Jean Ping of Gabon.

But in the end such a text proved to be the only way to gain consensus. Three weeks of wrestling with the language had left a document on Tuesday morning with 27 unsolved issues and 149 phrases in brackets, meaning that they were still in dispute.

A decision was made to present the ambassadors with a final version refined by Mr. Ping, and it was that text that the General Assembly endorsed Tuesday night, just hours before the arrival of the world leaders.

Much of the positive reaction to Mr. Bolton has come from how he did not live up to his negative reviews.

"People were very cautious, to say the least, because of his reputation as a tough guy who didn't like the U.N." said Abdallah Baali, the ambassador of Algeria, who said he knew Mr. Bolton from working with him in Africa. "In fact, I was the only one who said that Bolton was an intelligent man who could be creative and constructive and wouldn't go around bullying delegations."

Instead of strong-arming delegations, Mr. Bolton won points for glad- handing them, making it a point to make contact with all 32 envoys who participated in the talks.

"I was struck by this almost hysterical notion of what having Bolton in the room would mean and how that would work out," said a European ambassador, who said he could comment on a colleague only anonymously.

"Quite frankly," he said, "not even one-third of what was feared about John Bolton, his style, his approach, the way he would work, actually came through in the room. All I saw was an ambassador who did his work and did it well."

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