The U.S. Senate Thursday overwhelmingly confirmed Ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, as the first U.S. Ambassador to post-war Iraq.
With the United States preparing to transfer limited sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30th, Senate leaders expedited Ambassador Negroponte's confirmation.
One week after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the nomination, the full Senate followed suit on a 95 to 3 vote.
Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, says there is no better candidate to represent the United States in Iraq than Ambassador Negroponte.
"He understands the gravity of the situation and its complexity. He does not have a doctrinaire point of view, but clearly recognizes the political realities in Iraq, in this country, and in our international relations," he said.
Mr. Negroponte has served 37 years in the foreign service. Besides his position at the United Nations, he also has served as Ambassador to Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines.
In the debate over Mr. Negroponte's confirmation, some Senators noted the controversy surrounding his experience as Ambassador to Honduras in the 1980's, when the United States was supporting Honduran-based rebels seeking the overthrow of the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Many Democrats opposed the Reagan administration's support for the contra rebels, and accused it of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses by the contras.
It was a point underscored by Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, who was one of the three lawmakers to oppose Ambassador Negroponte's nomination. "Mr. Negroponte showed a callous disregard for human rights abuses throughout his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras," he said.
At a time when the United States is seeking to repair the damage done to its credibility in the Middle East by images of U.S. troops mistreating Iraqi detainees, Senator Harkin says the United States cannot afford to have an Ambassador to Iraq with a questionable human rights record.
But most Democrats, even those who agree with the criticism of Mr. Negroponte's tenure as Amabassador to Honduras, say his record as a diplomat has improved over the past few decades.
Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations' Western Hemisphere subcommittee, said, "John Negroponte and I have had our difficulties over the years. One of them goes back to his days in Honduras when he was an Ambassador there and there were issues of human rights violations. I know John Negroponte. He has been a good Ambassador in his other capacities. He has been a good Ambassador at the United Nations. He did a good job in Mexico."
A few Senate Democrats, including Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, used the confirmation debate to criticize President Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq in the first place. "This is the President's war. It is the result of his radical doctrine of preventive war and American unilateralism run amuck," he said.
But it was the argument of the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, that prevailed. "Do not confuse a lack of a coherent policy, from my perspective anyway, with the lack of confidence and ability of Ambassador Negroponte," he said.
Ambassador Negroponte will head the largest U.S. embassy in the world with some 1,700 staff, including 1,000 Americans.