WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush named John Negroponte,
the United States’s top diplomat at the United Nations, as
the U.S. ambassador to Iraq yesterday and asserted that Iraq
“will be free and democratic and peaceful.”

Bush announced the nomination in an Oval Office ceremony.

At the United Nations, Negroponte, 64, was instrumental in
winning unanimous approval of a Security Council resolution that
demanded Saddam Hussein comply with U.N. mandates to disarm.

While the resolution helped the Bush administration make its
case for invading Iraq, the Security Council eventually refused to
endorse the overthrow of Saddam, opting instead to extend U.N.
weapons searches.

“John Negroponte is a man of enormous experience and
skill” and “has done a really good job of speaking for
the United States to the world about our intentions to spread
freedom and peace,” Bush said.

Regarding Negroponte’s new post, the president said there
is “no doubt in my mind he can handle it, no doubt in my mind
he will do a very good job and there’s no doubt in my mind
that Iraq will be free and democratic and peaceful.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ind.)
supports the nomination and said he will work with Secretary of
State Colin Powell to provide a prompt public hearing for
Negroponte.

If confirmed by the Senate, Negroponte would head a U.S. embassy
in Baghdad that will be temporarily housed in a palace that
belonged to Saddam. When up and running, the embassy will be the
largest in the world.

Negroponte would become ambassador in Baghdad when the United
States hands over political power to an interim Iraqi government by
a June 30 deadline. The current top U.S. official in Iraq, L. Paul
Bremer, is expected to leave the country once the political
transition is completed.

Thousands of U.S. troops will remain in the country even after
the political transition is complete.

As U.N. ambassador in New York, Negroponte also helped win
approval of a resolution to expand the mandate of an international
security force in Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban
government. Before that, he worked in private business.

Negroponte’s nomination for the U.N. post was confirmed by
the Senate in September 2001, but that confirmation didn’t
come easy.

It was delayed a half-year mostly because of criticism of his
record as the U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. In
Honduras, Negroponte played a prominent role in assisting the
Contras in Nicaragua in their war with the left-wing Sandinista
government, which was aligned with Cuba and the Soviet Union.

For weeks before his Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing,
Negroponte was questioned by staff members on whether he had
acquiesced to human rights abuses by a Honduran death squad funded
and partly trained by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Negroponte testified that he did not believe the abuses were
part of a deliberate Honduran government policy. “To this
day,” he said, “I do not believe that death squads were
operating in Honduras.”

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