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Bush: Politics stalling Bolton vote

Former ambassador to S. Korea disputes nominee's testimony

John Bolton, the U.N. nominee, speaks last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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President Bush urges confirmation for John Bolton.

The White House criticizes Bolton delay.

New accusations delay a committee vote on John Bolton.
United Nations
John Bolton
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush urged senators Thursday to "put aside politics" and confirm John Bolton as the country's new U.N. ambassador, calling him "the right man at the right time for this important assignment."

"Sometimes, politics gets in the way of doing the people's business," Bush said in a speech to the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America convention in Washington.

"Take John Bolton, the good man I nominated to represent our country at the U.N.

"John's distinguished career and service to our nation demonstrates that he is the right man at the right time for this important assignment," Bush said.

"I urge the Senate to put aside politics and confirm John Bolton to the U.N."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee put off a scheduled vote on Bolton's nomination Tuesday after a Republican member, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, joined Democrats in asking for more time to investigate fresh allegations about the nominee's conduct. (Full story)

The committee, dominated 10-8 by Republicans, is expected to meet again in early May. A majority vote in favor is needed to send the nomination to the Senate floor. A tie would be the same as a no vote.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan blasted Democrats on Wednesday, saying the complaints they had raised were trumped-up and "unsubstantiated." (Full story)

Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota said his fellow Republicans on the committee made a "tactical error" by not answering criticism from Democrats before postponing a vote.

"We let the other side put on their case, and they took a record and they kind of threw stuff on the wall, hoping it stuck," Coleman said. "We could have rebutted all of it, and we didn't."

The allegations against Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, have focused on his conduct in dealing with subordinates.

During confirmation hearings before the Foreign Relations Committee last week, former State Department official Carl W. Ford Jr. described Bolton as a "serial abuser" who clashed with one of his intelligence analysts. (Full story)

In grilling about the incident before the committee April 11, Bolton said he never asked for anyone to be punished and said he was upset because the analyst went behind his back -- not because he disagreed with him.

Since the hearings, Democrats said, fresh allegations have arisen about Bolton's conduct.

"There's been a list of witnesses who have come forward -- seven different people who corroborated that Mr. Bolton tried to fire a defense analyst," said Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. "Not just one -- seven different people, all within this administration."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that five people have come forward to corroborate allegations that Bolton threatened a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Voinovich -- who missed Bolton's appearance before the committee -- said he would not "feel comfortable" about voting on the nominee before the claims were investigated.

Testimony disputed

Another Republican member of the committee, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, said senators have questions about what he called "discrepancies" between Bolton's testimony April 11 and the recollections of others.

"We want to get to the bottom of some of these, and possibly call Mr. Bolton back," said Chafee, who was one of three committee Republicans -- along with Voinovich and Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel -- to express reservations about Bolton.

One of those challenging Bolton's testimony is Thomas Hubbard, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea.

Hubbard told CNN that Bolton mischaracterized him and the embassy in Seoul as having signed off on a bellicose speech the nominee made on North Korea.

In fact, Hubbard said Thursday, Bolton ignored advice by the embassy staff to tone down the speech.

Dodd was more blunt, telling CNN that Bolton was "not truthful" in his comments about Hubbard.

Hubbard, a career Foreign Service officer whom Bush appointed to the Seoul post and who has since retired, said he raised the issue with committee staffers because "I didn't want any senators to vote based on his assertion that I'd approved his speech."

Bolton made the speech in Seoul in July 2003. In it, he called North Korean leader Kim Jong Il a "tyrannical dictator" and his country "a hellish nightmare."

North Korea responded by calling Bolton "human scum" and refused to participate in six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons program unless Bolton was excluded.

Asked about the speech April 11, Bolton said it was "fully cleared within the appropriate bureaucracy" and that Hubbard told him afterward, "Thanks a lot for that speech, John. It'll help us a lot out here."

Hubbard called that "at best is a misinterpretation or a misperception." He said Bolton offered embassy staff a chance to comment on his Seoul speech, and diplomats recommended "that he should tone it down. He did not do that."

Hubbard said he and his staff advised Bolton "that a lot of the language he was using about Kim and North Korea would be counterproductive to getting them back to six-party talks."

He said Bolton did make many changes to portions Hubbard thought would rankle South Korea, a longtime U.S. ally.

"As he was departing, I thanked him for making those changes he made and said that would help us with the South Koreans," Hubbard said. "But to say I approved that speech in toto -- either officially or from a policy perspective -- is an exaggeration to say the least."

McClellan disputed any suggestion that Bolton had complicated the North Korean nuclear standoff, saying the White House was "confident that he's going to be confirmed."

North Korea has demanded one-on-one talks with the United States, but participated in two rounds of six-party talks in 2004.

The isolated Stalinist state skipped the next scheduled round of talks, in September 2004, after denouncing what it called a "hostile" U.S. policy.

In February, Pyongyang declared it had nuclear weapons, though it has yet to test one.

CNN State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.

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