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Senate Expected to Confirm Bush UN Ambassador Nominee - 2001-09-14

Besides dealing with the aftermath of Tuesday's terrorist strikes, the U.S. Congress is starting to resume its regular business. This includes evaluating President Bush's nominees, one of whom appears on track for confirmation, despite an old controversy.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved, 14 to 3, the president's choice of veteran diplomat John Negroponte as ambassador to the United Nations. The nomination was stalled for months by questions about his service as U.S. envoy to Honduras from 1981 through 1985.

Critics say the American embassy failed to report its knowledge of death squads and human rights violations by Honduran security forces, who were then in conflict with leftist guerrillas. Mr. Negroponte acknowledged abuses took place. But he says the record in Honduras was better than elsewhere in Central America and he believes he served honorably.

"There was no effort on the part of myself or others serving the U.S. government at the time to stifle reporting about human rights in Honduras, to cover up any credible effort of human rights abuses which came to our attention," he said.

Three Democratic senators said they were unsatisfied with Mr. Negroponte's answers, and voted against the nomination. But Republican Jesse Helms, the conservative former committee chairman, argued the president needs his U.N. ambassador in place in a time of crisis. "Because the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, whomever he may be, or she, because the U.S. ambassador plays such an important role in communicating with our friends and allies, it is urgent that he be at his post," he said.

The panel's approval sends the nomination onto the Senate floor for a confirmation vote, perhaps as early as this week.