President Bush has named U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte as the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq. The president acknowledges it will be a difficult task, but said John Negroponte is the best man for the job.
"No doubt in my mind he can handle it," he said. "No doubt in my mind he will do a very good job. And there is no doubt in my mind that Iraq will be free and democratic and peaceful."
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Mr. Negroponte will move from New York to Baghdad to head what will eventually become the biggest American embassy staff in the world. He will, in essence, replace Paul Bremer, the current top U.S. official in Iraq. The transition is likely to take place once the country returns to Iraqi sovereignty in late June.
In making the announcement, President Bush noted John Negroponte's experience and skill. As U.N. envoy, he helped win support for a crucial Security Council resolution calling on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to disarm, although the administration later withdrew its bid to get U.N. approval for an invasion.
The White House is now looking to the United Nations to play an active role after the transfer to Iraqi sovereignty and has endorsed a U.N. plan to put together an interim government of technocrats.
President Bush indicated Mr. Negroponte's tenure at the world body is likely to be an asset in his new assignment. "He's done a really good job of speaking for the United States to the world about our intentions to spread freedom and peace," he said.
The U.N. post marked a return to public service for John Negroponte. He first joined the diplomatic corps in 1960 and worked in Vietnam, Mexico, Honduras and the Philippines before moving to the private sector in 1997. He was lured back to become U.N. ambassador in 2001.
His nomination to the U.N. post was approved by the Senate after a delay of about six months, primarily caused by questions related to his service as U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the 1980's.
Critics charged, among other things, that he overlooked human rights abuses by Honduran government forces. Mr. Negroponte has denied the charges.