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My favorite ambassador

United States Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton made himself available for a thirty-minute on the record telephone interview with us this afternoon, together with Jay Nordlinger of National Review, Tom Bevan of RealClearPolitics, and Pamela of Atlas Shrugs.

Ambassador Bolton is the most straightforward and plainspoken diplomat I have ever heard. He is a great advocate of America’s cause. Any lack of clarity in the summary below is attributable to me. One point he made in passing applies in general to his comments; his speeches and statements are all administration policy cleared “at the highest level.”

Ambassador Bolton opened briefly with a statement on the imminent failure of the expenditure caps put in place last December that are expiring at the end of this month to effectuate reforms in three major areas of concern for reform: 1) mandate reform, 2) management reform, and 3) accountability. Ambassador Bolton stated that there was no reason to declare success in any of these three areas despite anything that might be said to the contrary by others later this week, but that he would “keep plugging” on them as long as he was in office. (Benny Avni’s related story appears in today’s New York Sun.)

I pressed the ambassador on diplomatic efforts to induce Iran to suspend its nuclear program. I asked what President Bush meant by describing Iran’s efforts as “unacceptable,” and how he would assess the current state of diplomacy. He said that President Bush was a man of his word and that “unacceptable” meant “unacceptable.” He said that “Iran has to make a choice within a matter of days,” noting that it would be three weeks tomorrow since the offer had been made to Iran and that President Bush had required a response in weeks, not months.

He conveyed the administration’s sense of urgency in obtaining a response, suggesting that he therefore could not understand President Ahmadinejad’s projected August response. He said a response was desired before the G-8 foreign ministers meeting is convened on Thursday. He expressed the adminstration’s awareness of Iran’s previous gloating over its use of negotiations to stall the Europeans while it completed work on its Isfahan nuclear facility. In response to Pamela’s related questions on Iran, he said twice that “time works in Iran’s favor.”

I asked about how the United States felt it should deal with Ahmadinejad given his leadership role in the 1979 seizure of American hostages at the American embassy in Tehran. He said that Americans should not forget and that he himself had met with three former hostages this past September 30, one of whom was especially emotional about Ahmadinejad’s role in his ordeal. Nevertheless, it is necessary to deal with Ahmadinejad in order to attempt to forestall Iran’s acquisition of nuclear arms.

Jay Nordlinger asked whether Mark Malloch Brown’s speech criticizing FOX News, Rush Limbaugh and Americans’ lack of support for the United Nations was a dead issue. He said that he thought the ill feeling generated by Malloch Brown’s speech would remain a live issue in Congress, even if it was not a live issue institutionally within the United Nations. He emphasized his own views regarding the illegitimacy of Malloch Brown’s remarks, reiterating comments we previously reported here and here.

I asked Ambassador Bolton if the governance structure of the United Nations was obsolete. He said that being in the United Nations was like being in the Twilight Zone. He further responded by reference to the disparity between the one country/one vote structure of the General Assembly and the dues assessments of member countries. Ambassador Bolton calculated, for example, that the United States has one vote of 192 in the General Assembly, while its dues pay 22 percent of the UN’s budget. A majority of UN members — 97 of 192 — pays 0.289 percent of the UN budget. Stated otherwise, the United States contributes 66 times more than a majority of United Nations members, combined.

Tom Bevan asked about the New York Times’s disclosure of the administration’s terrorist finance tracking program. Ambassador Bolton stated that the disclosure of the program was hard to defend in that it revealed an effective means of tracking how terrorists move and launder money. He regretted the demise of a World War II spirit in such matters.

We have not seen the like of Ambassador Bolton since Jeane Kirpatrick occupied the post in the first term of the Reagan administration. I hope to check in with him again on the subject of Iran next month. In the meantime, thanks to Jay, Pamela and Tom for their patience with my questions on Iran and to Ambassador Bolton’s deputy press secretary Jana Chapman for arranging the interview and following up with additional information.

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