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State Department to Back Bolton Nomination to UN

The State Department said Thursday it will provide documents and testimony by current officials to support the controversial nomination of John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee opens confirmation hearings on Mr. Bolton next Monday after postponing them from this week because of the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Despite the Republican majority in the Senate, confirmation of Mr. Bolton is not a certainty.

And the hearings will likely include competing testimony of former State Department officials opposing the nomination and of incumbents supporting Mr. Bolton against charges he misused intelligence information.

Mr. Bolton, a blunt-speaking favorite of Washington conservatives, has been chosen by President Bush to be U.N. Ambassador after serving the last four years as Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

The nomination has drawn criticism from Senate Democrats, who cite Mr. Bolton's outspoken criticism of the United Nations and opposition to key arms control treaties.

But the most pointed hearing testimony could come from the former chief of the State Department's intelligence and research bureau, Carl Ford, who is expected to tell Senators Mr. Bolton distorted intelligence information to support administration views on Iraq and other issues.

At a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher departed from the usual practice of not taking sides on partisan matters to say that the department sees no grounds for questioning the Bolton nomination.

Mr. Boucher said the Senate Intelligence Committee thoroughly examined similar allegations against Mr. Bolton two years ago and dismissed them. He said the State Department is ready to offer up documents and testimony from current officials next week to support the nominee's own defense of his record as Undersecretary.

"We've been fully prepared to provide them with access to the individuals involved, or the people in responsible positions who are knowledgeable and can explain the situations to them," he said. "So at this point we're working and cooperating very closely with the committee. But we do note these are old stories. They've been looked into in the past, discussed in the past, and we don't see any grounds for questioning his nomination or confirmation."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a 10-8 Republican majority. But if one Republican could be persuaded to join Democrats in opposing Mr. Bolton in a tie vote, the nomination would not go to the Senate floor and would likely be blocked.

Democrats are focusing their efforts of persuasion on Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who a spokesman says is undecided but inclined to support Mr. Bolton.

Last week, a group of 59 former high-ranking U.S. diplomats and arms control officials issued a joint statement urging the committee to reject the Bolton nomination.

That was countered this week by a similar petition by 65 former officials backing Mr. Bolton. Five former Republican Secretaries of State also endorsed the nomination, though former Secretary Colin Powell, Mr. Bolton's boss the last four years, was not among them.

Supporters say Mr. Bolton's criticism of the United Nations is well-founded and that a tough U.S. approach is needed at a time when the world body is grappling with problems like the Iraq oil-for-food program scandal and the prospect of reform and reorganization.

Bolton opponents say consensus, not confrontation, is what is needed now at the United Nations, with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer calling his nomination radical.