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Bolton's work ethic wins respect at U.N.

John R. Bolton
John R. Bolton

UNITED NATIONS — When President Bush greeted Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday, he gestured toward John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador, and asked, "Has the place blown up since he's been here?"

The internal U.N. television sound boom that picked up the jest did not record any response from the secretary-general, who simply smiled.

But the same question, in less explosive form, has been posed repeatedly around the United Nations since the Aug. 1 arrival of Bolton, who famously once said that the headquarters building was filled with such sloth and incompetence that it would not matter if 10 of its 38 floors were lopped off.

In response, his fellow ambassadors say they are impressed with Bolton's work ethic, his knowledge of his brief, his clarity in declaring it and his toughness as a negotiator.

In the three weeks of intensive negotiations on the document approved Friday night by the 153 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs here for the summit conference on global poverty and U.N. reform, he was in his chair at 8 a.m. and often still there when the meetings adjourned at 1 a.m.

Some delegates, however, faulted him for emphasizing what the United States would never accept, saying it ended up encouraging more active opposition to American positions.

They complained that he devoted too much time to talking about the American "red lines" and about the red pen he had in his pocket at the ready.

Much of the positive reaction to Bolton has come from how he did not live up to his negative reviews.

"People were very cautious, to say the least, because of his reputation as a tough guy who didn't like the U.N." said Abdallah Baali, the ambassador of Algeria, who said he knew Bolton from working with him in Africa. "In fact, I was the only one who said that Bolton was an intelligent man who could be creative and constructive and wouldn't go around bullying delegations."

Instead of strong-arming delegations, Bolton won points for glad-handing them, making it a point to make contact with all 32 envoys who participated in the talks.

"I was struck by this almost hysterical notion of what having Bolton in the room would mean and how that would work out," said a European ambassador, who said he could comment on a colleague only anonymously.

"Quite frankly," he said, "not even one-third of what was feared about John Bolton, his style, his approach, the way he would work, actually came through in the room. All I saw was an ambassador who did his work and did it well."