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Honduras staging ground for nicaraguan contras { April 20 2004 }

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Bush to shift U.N. envoy to Iraq embassy
Veteran diplomat Negroponte called a 'low-profile, serious professional'
Anne E. Kornblut, Boston Globe
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
2004 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback | FAQ

Washington -- Preparing for the diplomatic challenges of an independent Iraq, President Bush tapped on Monday a prominent career foreign service officer, John Negroponte, to become the first ambassador from the United States once the current coalition authority relinquishes control.

The 64-year-old Negroponte, currently U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is expected to fill the post by June 30, assuming he wins Senate confirmation. The position will almost certainly become the most demanding -- and dangerous -- of all U.S. missions overseas with the opening of a huge U. S. Embassy in Baghdad and more than 100,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country indefinitely.

In announcing the move, Bush declared it a very difficult assignment, but expressed full confidence in Negroponte. "There's no doubt in my mind he can handle it," Bush said during a ceremony in the Oval Office.

Monday's announcement represents a victory for Secretary of State Colin Powell, putting a distinctly diplomatic face on a military operation plagued by mounting violence and, this week, evidence that the international coalition is fracturing, as the newly elected Spanish prime minister called for an immediate withdrawal of that country's troops.

Negroponte, 64, is an ally of Powell's, having returned to government service in 2001 at Powell's request after four years in the private sector. Negroponte has also served under both Democratic and Republican presidents and is viewed as far less polarizing than at least one of the other rumored candidates, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a chief advocate of the drive to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

As a high-profile spokesman for the war -- and the arguments that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction and had ties to the Sept. 11 terrorists -- Wolfowitz would have guaranteed a chaotic confirmation process and potentially complicated the departure of Paul Bremer, the current U.S. administrator in Iraq.

In New York, Negroponte is viewed as a discreet diplomat, a contrast to the higher-profile and media-friendly Bremer. "He strikes me as such a low-key type, but that may be the idea: to have someone as different from Bremer as possible," said a U.N. official who asked not to be named.

Edward Luck, a professor at Columbia University and a leading expert on the United Nations, said Negroponte "is the epitome of the low-profile, serious professional diplomat." But Luck said he believes the chief downside to the appointment is that "he doesn't have any real experience in the area and doesn't speak Arabic."

Negroponte was a leading force behind Resolution 1441, the final U.N. declaration insisting that Hussein abandon his weapons programs. He also helped internationalize the military security force in Afghanistan after coalition forces demolished the Taliban regime. And although Negroponte's further efforts to build U.N. backing for the war failed, his 37 years in the foreign service, coupled with his network of colleagues at the United Nations, give him diplomatic credentials that Bush described Monday as invaluable.

When Bush chose Negroponte for the U.N. post, lawmakers resurrected old questions about his role as U.S. ambassador to Honduras during the Reagan administration -- specifically, whether he ignored human rights abuses, as well as efforts by the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan contras to use Honduras as a staging ground for their attacks on the neighboring Sandinista government.

Though Negroponte emerged from the 1980s Iran-Contra controversy relatively unblemished, some Democrats said new evidence about atrocities in Central America that came to light in the 1990s should be re-examined before approving his job in the Bush administration, and held up his nomination for more than a year. Negroponte served as U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985.

During his confirmation hearings for the U.N. post, Negroponte steadfastly denied that death squads operated in Honduras under his watch. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Senate promptly confirmed him, placing him at the center of the Iraq showdown in the months that followed.

Along with Powell, Negroponte helped lead the failed U.S. effort to secure U.N. approval for the invasion of Iraq. In a statement before the Security Council after hostilities began, Negroponte reaffirmed the belief -- still unproven and by most accounts untrue -- that Iraq hid weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. resolutions.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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Cia trained death squads in honduras { April 20 2004 }
Honduras staging ground for nicaraguan contras { April 20 2004 }
Honduras troops go home after negroponte appointed to iraq { April 20 2004 }
Negroponte coversup death squads in honduras { April 14 2004 }

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