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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2706

U.S. Envoy's Abrasiveness Failed Him at U.N.

By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations, 05 December, (IPS): As one critic mockingly remarked, the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton would have done better as an architect or an urban planner than an international diplomat.

The reason: his now widely quoted remark that if the 39-storeyed U.N. Secretariat lost 10 floors, it wouldn't make much of a difference to the world body.

Using the power of the purse, Bolton once warned that unless there was a radical restructuring of the world body -- as envisaged by the United States and Western nations -- the United Nations would be strangled to death financially, perhaps floor by floor.. But his architectural ingenuity did not pay in the long run as he made more political enemies than friends in an Organization where diplomacy-- not abrasiveness-- counts.

Asked by a reporter whether Bolton tried to "chop down the effectiveness" of the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan was more charitable.

"I think it is difficult to blame one individual ambassador for difficulties on some of these issues, whether it is reform or some other issues," he told reporters Monday, hours after Bolton announced his resignation, effective January, because he was unable to win U.S. Senate confirmation for an extension of his term of office.

"But I think what I have always maintained is that it is important that ambassadors work together, that ambassadors understand that to get concessions, they have to make concessions, and they need to work with each other for the organization to move ahead," Annan added.

"Bolton started off on the right note," says one Asian diplomat, who pointed out that the U.S. ambassador visited virtually every single foreign mission in New York, paying courtesy calls on ambassadors. But somewhere down the line his arrogance got the better of him, he added.

Asked which foreign missions he had skipped, Bolton told reporters: "I am sure it is not hard to guess." The missions he avoided included North Korea, Iran and Cuba, three vowed political enemies of the White House.

As he jousted with his opponents, Bolton set his own right-wing, neoconservative agenda which ran into cross purposes with the rest of the membership, during his brief 16-month tenure as the permanent representative of the United States.

Bolton antagonized developing nations, who comprise an overwhelming two-thirds of the 192-member world body, by demanding that the United States bears "special responsibility" to advance reforms in the world body because it pays 22 percent of the budget -- although the United Nations is based on the principle of one-nation, one-vote, irrespective of financial contributions.

"The Group of 77 and China strongly believes that the right of every member state to have an equal say in the decision-making of the Organization must be upheld," Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa said.

"This right is not dependent on the financial contributions of member states to the budget of the Organization," Kumalo argued, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, which represents 132 developing nations.

He said those with the means to fund the United Nations were forcing the rest of the membership to give up their rights under the Charter.

"We think that is not right. We are saying that the Charter, which we all believe in, says we have the right to pronounce on this organization. What's wrong with us wanting to pronounce?"

Voicing the views of President George W. Bush -- as he rightly should -- Bolton took a hard line against North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programmes, triggering opposition from two other permanent members in the Security Council, namely Russia and China.

Although Bolton piloted a resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea, he failed to get Russian and Chinese support for a similar resolution against Iran. That proposed resolution is now in limbo.

"I am also constantly encouraging member states to try and speak with one voice where it is possible, particularly in the Security Council, because a united voice is much more powerful than a divided one," Annan said, referring to a 15-member Security Council which is currently split over whether or not it should impose sanctions to punish Iran for its nuclear programme.

In a statement released Monday, U.S. President George Bush said he was "deeply disappointed" that Bolton was prevented from receiving an up or down vote in the Senate.

But Phyllis Bennis, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS it was not surprising that in the first place, Bush picked a "bully" for U.N. ambassador.

"But at the United Nations now, the danger is that if they keep the same aggressive, unilateralist policy, but hire some talented, charming diplomatic Republican moderate to orchestrate it, it will be more difficult for other nations to mobilise resistance to U.S. pressure," said Bennis, author of "Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the U.N. Defy U.S. Power".

She pointed out that Bolton was a long-time U.N.-basher, years before he was appointed ambassador -- the remarks he had famously made, "there is no such thing as the United Nations", and more, "were all made in a debate with me and the late Erskine Childers (of the U.N. Development Programme) back in 1994 -- it was shocking then, and he wasn't even in office at that time."

The question now is whether a new face at the U.S. mission to the United Nations will reflect anything close to a new policy towards the United Nations, she added.

Just before a summit meeting of world leaders last year, Bolton also antagonised both developed and developing nations by insisting that the very concept of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- adopted by heads of state in 2000 -- should be deleted from a review document outlining the progress made in fighting world hunger and poverty.

But he eventually abandoned his opposition to MDGs which has been described as a landmark programme for social and economic development of the world's poorer nations.

Asked to assess Bolton's tenure in office, Annan said: "I think Ambassador Bolton did the job he was expected to do."

"He came at a time when we had lots of tough issues. As a representative of the U.S. government he pressed ahead with the instructions that he had been given, and tried to work as effectively as he could with the other ambassadors," Annan added.

But Bennis had a different take. She said that Bolton's "resignation" reflects the recent very steep decline in Bush's support and therefore, his options.

"Bolton's departure, like (Defence Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld's, does seem to be a reflection of Bush administration effort to make it look as if they're changing policy in Iraq, without actually changing much," she added.

"They have to change how they talk about the war, they have to appear to take seriously taking a look at the myriad of new proposals now being announced, but they dont seem to know what kind of real change to actually make to get out from under the crisis without "losing" the war or "losing face."

Getting rid of Bolton is a good symbolic move towards that, she added.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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