Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Arab Nations See Bolton Nomination as Signal of Tough U.S. Line on Iran

Lee Keath, The Associated Press:
The United States' nomination of a hard-edged arms control official as U.N. ambassador raised concerns Tuesday in the Middle East that Washington is signaling a tougher stance, particularly on Iran's nuclear program and the standoff with Syria.

John R. Bolton was nominated for the post at a time when the world body is deeply involved with both Syria and Iran, pressing Damascus to pull its military out of Lebanon and trying to determine the extent of Tehran's nuclear program.

His tough talk on a wide range of issues from North Korea's nuclear program to reforms at the United Nations already has raised concerns among Democrats in the U.S. Congress that President Bush is putting forward such a vocal critic as Washington seeks to improve relations with its allies. read more

Some in the Middle East saw Bolton's nomination, announced Monday, as a sign that hard-liners in favor of a more aggressive U.S. policy abroad are becoming stronger in Washington.

``This is an extremely bad message that Bush has submitted to the neo-conservatives,'' said Imad Shoueibi, a Syrian political analyst in Damascus. ``They should have a more moderate figure representing them at the United Nations, but instead they have one of the most radical.''

The Iranian government vowed Tuesday to stand up to any harder American pressure.

``The presence of hard-liner Bolton in the U.N. prepares the ground for U.S. intervention in the organization while reform of the U.N. structure and review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are on the agenda,'' Iran's state-run radio said in a commentary.

``But Bolton will not achieve this because the world community will resist him.''

As undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, Bolton has played a role in making the U.S. case that Iran is trying to deceive the U.N. atomic watchdog agency and seeks to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program aims only to produce electricity.

Bolton visited Gulf nations in January and February, telling reporters that ``all the countries we consulted with agree with our fundamental bottom line, that Iran shouldn't have nuclear weapons.''

Mohamed Wahby, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, an independent think tank that often advises the Egyptian government, said, ``I am sure that any country that is opposed to the United States, like Iran and Syria, will have a few bad days over Bolton's nomination.''

The U.N. Security Council has called for Syria to pull its 14,000 troops out of Lebanon, where Damascus has long wielded control and the United States has hiked up the pressure, demanding Syria get out by May. Syria has begun pulling its forces back toward the border but has been vague on a timetable for removing them completely.

``I expect the United Nations to play a bigger role with regards to Syria and Iran,'' said Mohamed Kamal, deputy director of the American Studies Center at Cairo University. ``And with Mr. Bolton being there as head of the U.S. mission it would mean the U.S. position on these two specific issues will be tougher.''

On a broader level, Bolton's nomination signals that Washington is ready to push hard in its calls for greater democracy in Arab nations and for change at the United Nations.

``The Bush administration is reinforcing one message the idea of reform, because this is the one thing on the U.S. government's mind, whether it be reform in the Middle East or of the United Nations,'' Wahby said.

Known for a hard-edged approach, Bolton's previous comments about troublesome foreign issues and regimes have been far from diplomatic.

In a strongly worded speech in Tokyo last month, Bolton lashed out at China for not stopping its munitions companies from selling missile technology to Iran and other nations the United States considers rogue states.

Two years ago, Bolton denounced North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a ``tyrannical dictator'' and described life under the ruler as ``a hellish nightmare.'' Furious, a North Korean spokesman fired back that ``such human scum and bloodsucker'' would be closed out of negotiations over the country's nuclear weapons program.