United Nations As John R. Bolton's nomination to become the next ambassador to the United Nations hangs in limbo, diplomats here say they don't care how a new U.S. envoy gets here, as long as one comes soon.
"I know Mr. Bolton, and I know that he is very pushy," said Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya, who has dealt with Bolton on nonproliferation issues. "I hope that he can push hard for the U.S. position, especially on U.N. reform, because right now, no one is doing it."
U.S. Senate Democrats have blocked a vote twice on Bolton's nomination in the past two months, saying that the blunt-speaking U.N. critic and "undiplomatic diplomat" is not the best choice to represent the United States. They say they will allow a vote after the White House hands over documents that could show whether Bolton manipulated or misused intelligence while he was the undersecretary of state for arms control.
With no compromise in sight, that leaves two choices for the Bush administration: appointing Bolton to the job when Congress is in recess, or withdrawing his nomination.
A recess appointment would skirt the confirmation process, but it is politically undesirable, because it limits Bolton's post to the remaining year and half of the Senate's term. Plus, say U.S. officials, dodging the Democrats right now on the nomination might heighten tensions over the pending Supreme Court opening.
Washington, D.C., officials also worry that sending Bolton to New York by the back door doesn't convey the message of strength and government support that a U.S. ambassador needs to have.
During U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent visit to the United Nations, she spoke for 20 minutes on New York's now-failed Olympic bid but didn't say a word about the United Nations - or her embattled nominee. For diplomats here, Rice's silence spoke volumes about the State Department's willingness to stand behind the controversial candidate.
"We don't know what his weight will be in the administration," said a Security Council ambassador who asked not to be named because he might have to work with Bolton.
He and others expressed discomfort with Bolton's reputation for pushing the boundaries of his negotiating instructions and his unsparing rhetoric rarely heard in the U.N.'s hallowed halls. After Bolton called North Korean leader Kim Jong Il a "tyrannical dictator," the Pyongyang regime declared him "human scum" and banned him from talks in 2003.
"We need to be sure that what he says represents exactly what his government's position is," the diplomat said.
But others say that governments make policies, not the ambassadors, and Bolton appeared to have backing from Vice President Dick Cheney, and thus President Bush's ear.
"I know that he has very good connections in the White House, so it does not matter so much what his relationship with the State Department is like," Wang said. "As long as he has the connection to the Big Boss, he can do his job."
Security Council ambassadors generally say that they will deal with whoever is sitting in the U.S. seat. And despite broad respect for the Deputy U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, they agree that an ambassador is necessary to deal with pressing issues, such as expanding the Security Council, that will be on the agenda of a world summit at U.N. headquarters in September.
"I don't think it is any of our business whether he has a recess appointment or not," Romanian Ambassador Mihnea Motoc said. "We will work in a collegial manner. But a permanent representative is needed in this particularly intense period."
At the world's top table of diplomacy, ambassadors play an important, if limited, role. The home government sets the bottom line and instructs the envoy how to negotiate to achieve the country's goals. But a diplomat can influence the government's tactics, the substance of the policy, and persuade others to sign on to it, said French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere.
"We know here who are the ambassadors who have influence at home, and who does not. It depends on how well they can sell the government position here, what kind of contacts they have, and how well they can communicate to their government what will work here," he said. "Personality has a lot to do with it too."
Most important, effective ambassadors must be able, or at least willing, to work with others to bolster their own country's top interests. Bolton's critics say his fiery language and uncompromising defense of U.S. interests might alienate potential partners. His supporters say that although he does not believe in multilateral treaties that might constrain U.S. options, he is an intelligent and tenacious negotiator, able to effectively form coalitions.
They point out that he was the architect of the 2003 Proliferation Security Initiative, a movement to stem the spread of illicit weapons materials, that has been heralded by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as an important achievement.
Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali, who has sat at the negotiating table with Bolton, said that when it came to issues outside of direct U.S. interest, Bolton proved to be flexible and positive.
"He can be very constructive and creative. There were several instances when we were at a stalemate when he came up with the way out," Baali said. "There is no reason to doubt that we will see that at the United Nations as well."