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Ousted Bolton puts world to rights, London Sunday Times

Ousted Bolton puts world to rights
Sarah Baxter, Washington

AS America’s ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton was no tame diplomat. Armed with his feared red pen, ready to strike out waffling resolutions, he was an able and aggressive defender of US interests, but he often had to uphold policies with which he was not in tune.

“To the great chagrin of many people, I followed my instructions at the UN,” he said in his first newspaper interview since relinquishing his post. He is a free man now and eager to have his say.

Bolton engaged in tortuous negotiations over sanctions for Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programmes with little confidence they would work.

“I wouldn’t have engaged in negotiations with Iran in the first place,” he said, evidently disdainful of Britain, France and Germany’s years of reaching out to Iran. “The policy has failed. Sanctions won’t stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”

Bolton thinks the Bush administration would “rather find a way for diplomacy to succeed but time is running out”. He added as an afterthought, “That’s me speaking” — a rueful acknowledgment that he is no longer the voice of America.

Bolton’s disillusion with the UN is such that he would like it to face competition from other international organisations. “The choice is to fix it or go somewhere else.” He favours building up Nato as a rival in the belief that it could expand into a “caucus of democracies” — a permanent coalition of the willing.

“Fifteen years ago people said Nato would either go out of area or out of existence and now it is in Afghanistan and it is all but Nato — absent Germany and France — in Iraq,” he said. “I think Nato should go global. There is no reason why Japan and Australia shouldn’t join.”

Nato could also make room for Israel. “Why not?” he said. “It’s a European country, fundamentally. Turkey is a European country and it is further east.”

Bolton believes that Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, is wasting her time trying to restart the Middle East peace process. The Arab-Israeli conflict was “not a priority”, he added. “I don’t see linkage to Iraq, and Hamas and Fatah are in a state of civil war.”

When the walrus-moustached Bolton, 58, was appointed ambassador in August 2005, Rice was eager to give diplomacy a chance — whether on Iran, North Korea or the Middle East.

Bolton was then under-secretary of state for arms control and nuclear proliferation. He was notably belligerent on Iran, and was sent to the UN in the face of opposition from Congress, including Republican “wets”, as one of his heroes, Margaret Thatcher, might describe them. Yet his mission, defined by Rice, was to talk, not to bite.

The same politicians balked at confirming Bolton in the job after he had served at President George W Bush’s discretion for little more than a year. He toyed with the idea of hanging on as an acting ambassador, but thought better of going for a “jury-rigged” selection. So out he went last month to the evident satisfaction of his arch-enemy Sir Mark Malloch Brown, the former British UN deputy secretary-general, who departed weeks later.

“I was very pleased that I . . . could at least hold the door for him to go first,” Malloch Brown said witheringly on Channel 4 News last week. “He was only saying publicly what he had been leaking for two years,” Bolton retorted.

Malloch Brown represented everything the US ambassador detested about the United Nations and its air of superiority. Bolton famously observed the organisation could lose 10 floors without anybody noticing, irritating UN bureaucrats.

Bolton approves of Ban Ki-Moon, the new South Korean secretary-general, but advises him to “move quickly to put his stamp on his tenure” before the bureaucracy sucks him in.

In Bolton’s view, America needs to take the lead in global affairs rather than the ineffectual UN because “Who else will?” His opinion of the Foreign Office in London is not much higher than the UN. It is “European” — not a compliment.

Britain has a “fundamental choice” to make, Bolton insisted. “The real issue is whether the UK sees itself as part of a ‘little Europe’ as opposed to Atlanticist. I certainly hope the Atlanticist view will prevail.”

Now back at the American Enterprise Institute, an old perch, he has taken over the office of the late Jeanne Kirkpatrick, another outspoken UN ambassador, who was every bit as ardent a defender of the perceived national interest.

The room, with a view of the Jefferson memorial, is still sparse but he has made it his own by placing his favourite gift from colleagues, a bronzed hand-grenade inscribed with “truest Reaganaut”, on the coffee table.

One of his greatest concerns is the threat to Israel and the West posed by Iran’s nuclear programme. Regime change is “preferable” to striking Iran’s sites, he noted, but “the only course worse than the use of force is an Iran with nuclear weapons”.

The EU3 nations’ years of negotiations with Iran were not a “neutral activity”. Iran used the time to develop its mastery of uranium enrichment — as its own leaders have boasted.

“There are all kinds of ways to change the regime,” he added, citing covert and overt means to topple the theocracy. “We have an extensive diaspora of people with Iranian heritage in America who we don’t use effectively.”

Ultimately, “President Bush has said it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons and he will not accept it.” The same was true of Israel: “They consider a nuclear Iran an existential threat.”

Bolton negotiated a package of UN security council sanctions against North Korea but the pariah state, ruled by the dictator Kim Jong-il, is already preparing for another nuclear test, the US believes. “It is perfectly clear they are not going to give up nuclear weapons.” Talks involving Russia, China and Japan as well as the US have gone nowhere, he said. The only real solution, Bolton suggests, is “peaceful reunification of the (Korean) peninsula”.

Once that is sorted out, there is still the problem of what to do with Iraq. Unlike Bush, Bolton believes Iraq is already at war with itself: “The fundamental point is whether the civil war that exists is going to continue.” Bolton has often been mistaken for a neocon, but while he considers democracy preferable to other forms of government, he does not consider it America’s duty to spread it.

The shape and form of the nation is irrelevant: what matters is that Iraq is either tolerably pro-western or de-fanged. He has no regrets about the removal of Saddam Hussein; now it is up to the Iraqis if they want to engage in “fratricide”. The same goes for partition: “If the future of Iraq is to stay together, that’s fine. If not, I couldn’t care less from a strategic perspective.”

In that sense, he is the authentic voice of the pre-September 11 Bush, before the president chose spreading the “fire of freedom” as the best way to protect his country from terrorism. Will America revert to its traditional moorings? Bolton is out of the UN but he could fit in with the new conservative thinking.

Copyright 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd.