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UN Diplomats Cautious on Nomination of New US Ambassador to World Body

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United Nations diplomats are reacting cautiously to the nomination of John Bolton as Washington's next envoy to the world body.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called him "tough minded". Media pundits describe him as "blunt spoken". Whatever the choice of words, John Bolton brings to the United Nations a reputation as man of strong opinions.

In 1994, he told a panel discussion that if the U.N. Secretariat building lost ten of its 38 stories, "it would not make a bit of difference".

In his capacity as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, he criticized the United Nations for failing to take stronger action against countries such as Iran and North Korea. He has been at the forefront of calls for the world body to be more accountable to its member states.

As news of his nomination filtered through the halls at U.N. headquarters Monday, reactions were guarded. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Kofi Annan was not concerned about Mr. Bolton's past statements or his demands for greater U.N. accountability. "I don't know what previous biases he may bring here. I think we have nothing against people who do hold us accountable. On the contrary, I think we do want to be held accountable," he said.

Last month, in a speech to an international audience in Tokyo, Mr. Bolton blasted China for not stopping its munitions companies from selling missile technology to Iran. He has also strongly opposed European plans to lift on embargo on selling weapons to Beijing.

Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya, who will sit with Mr. Bolton as a permanent Security Council member, described the choice as "interesting". "It's an interesting appointment, yes. Certainly we will respect the choice the government has made, and certainly myself I think I can work together with a character like Mr. Bolton. This is the choice the president had made, and for myself and I have several contacts with him, I know we can work together," he said.

Another Security Council diplomat, Algeria's Abdallah Baali suggested that Mr. Bolton's views might be moderated as he becomes enmeshed in the process of multilateral diplomacy. "When you are outside the United Nations you can have very strong views, and when you join the United Nations, and you interact with diplomats like us, then you change you views. We will certainly have interesting discussions," he said.

Mr. Bolton has been blunt in his assessment of Syria, as the United Nations pressures the Damascus government to pull its troops out of Lebanon. Syria's Ambassador Fayssal Mekhdad, however, brushed off questions about Mr. Bolton's previous comments. "He will implement the policies of his country, not his personal position. So he's welcome to the club and we'll see how to work with him," he said.

Other diplomats said they were encouraged by the nomination. One pointed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's comment that Mr. Bolton is personally committed to the future success of the United Nations.

When asked how Mr. Bolton's past comments might affect his performance, Ambassador Cesar Mayoral of Security Council member Argentina waved his hands and said "people change".

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