John R. Bolton, the pugnacious U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is known for not giving up. But after meeting with his mentor Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday to discuss ways to stay at the U.N. without a Senate confirmation, he decided it was time to quit.
In a letter to President Bush that the White House made public Monday morning, Bolton said: "After careful consideration, I have concluded that my service in your administration should end when the current recess appointment expires."
Bolton's resignation, along with the election of a Democrat-dominated Congress and selection of a new secretary-general, may provide a fresh start for U.N.-U.S. relations that have been tense since the Iraq war began, diplomats said. It also signals that the Bush administration is less willing, or less able, to go around Congress to push through an unpopular agenda.
Bush accepted the resignation Monday with "deep regret."
"I'm not happy about it," the president said in the Oval Office as he thanked Bolton for his service. "I think he deserved to be confirmed. And the reason why I think he deserved to be confirmed is because I know he did a fabulous job for the country."
Bush criticized key senators on the Foreign Relations Committee for blocking Bolton's confirmation, "even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time."
"This stubborn obstructionism ill-serves our country and discourages men and women of talent from serving their nation," Bush said.
In August 2005, Bush installed Bolton at the U.N. during a congressional recess because he couldn't get enough support in the Senate.
Until Thursday, U.S. officials said, the White House was exploring ways to appoint Bolton to a position that would allow him to continue his U.N. duties without facing a confirmation hearing. His term will end with this term of Congress, probably later this month.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Monday that it had "become pretty obvious" that there were insufficient votes in the Senate to confirm Bolton.
The president singled out Bolton's efforts to obtain unanimous Security Council support for resolutions on North Korea's military and nuclear activities. He also praised him for helping bring pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and for working to bring peace to Darfur.
At the United Nations, where most of his colleagues maintain a grudging respect for Bolton's tenacity, intellect and clear positions, there were mixed reactions to word of his resignation. His style alienated European nations that have typically been allies, and other colleagues said that he might have accomplished more if he were less rigid and abrasive.
When Bolton took over the rotating Security Council presidency in February, he declared that things would be different: The council would start on time, and diplomats would abandon their set speeches and engage in unscripted discussion of the issues. His fellow ambassadors started calling him "the schoolmarm," reflecting thinly veiled resentment.
"Starting on time is a form of discipline," he said at the time. "I brought the gavel down at 10. I was the only one in the room, though."
"His absence will be conspicuous," said Tanzanian Ambassador Augustine Mahiga, who sits near Bolton in the Security Council. "He leaves the U.N. with the reputation as someone not easy to deal with. His style tended to be quite imposing, maybe well-intentioned, but creating difficulties in developing consensus."
Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya has often been on the opposite side of issues, such as Darfur and Iran, but said he respected Bolton's diligence and command of the facts. "He is serious about the American objectives here in reforming the United Nations, and he pushed hard," Wang told reporters. "But of course sometimes in order to achieve the objective you have to work together with others."
Another ambassador said that when he couldn't work with Bolton, he would work around him. "When he was blocking the way, we would just call Condi," he said, referring to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "Many times, Condi was much more cooperative."
There was near celebration on the 38th floor, where Kofi Annan and his Cabinet sit. Annan and Bolton have a prickly relationship, and Annan, in a rare show of indignation, recently accused the U.S. ambassador of "intimidation." Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown, a vocal critic who has engaged in public arguments with Bolton, was restrained Monday.
"John Bolton's problem is last month's election, not the U.N. But obviously, while one admired his skillful use of the media, we longed for an American partner who could really work with us to achieve reform here. And when he couldn't, we often had to work around him with others."
"He certainly enjoyed a significant amount of respect for the clarity and firmness of his analysis, for being innovative, for being willing to do things differently," said Colin Keating, executive director of the Security Council Report, a think tank based at Columbia University.
Keating said that Bolton could not be blamed for the lack of progress on Iran and Sudan, nor could he be credited solely for obtaining unanimous support for resolutions on North Korea sanctions and a cease-fire in Lebanon.
But even his critics acknowledge that getting the council to discuss human rights and drug trafficking in Myanmar, formerly Burma, was a major accomplishment in the face of opposition from China.
"The process of getting that on the agenda is quite a significant achievement," Keating said. "It took a high degree of professionalism."
Bolton's successor will walk into the middle of sensitive discussions on Iran's nuclear program, the Sudanese government's resistance to peacekeepers in Darfur, security issues in Lebanon and Somalia, and the U.N.'s involvement in Iraq.
That makes Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq who has just announced his departure, a much-talked-about candidate to replace Bolton. Some U.N. officials, however, worry that choosing him would signal a U.S. desire to use the U.N. to facilitate a hasty exit from Iraq.
Former U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Williamson also has been approached for the job. Other names mentioned are George J. Mitchell, a former Democratic senator from Maine; Paula J. Dobriansky, the undersecretary of State for global affairs; and Jim Leach, a former Republican congressman from Iowa who has good relations with Democrats.
Farley reported from the United Nations and Gerstenzang from Washington.