Lunch at The Four Seasons with: John Bolton
Published by The New York Sun on 2006-06-09
John Bolton is a tale of two cities.
"When I was at law school, I decided that I was going to crack either Washington or New York," the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations said. "As it happened, I started my career in Washington. But now I've done New York, too."
Mr. Bolton obtained his law degree at Yale University. In fact, he's a Yalie through and through, having also received his undergraduate degree - summa cum laude - from the institution. Nearly all his professional life after Yale has been spent in Washington - that's 32 years - a town that's about as close to his birthplace of Baltimore as New Haven is to New York.
So, now that he's been in New York for almost a year, it seemed appropriate to ask Mr. Bolton how he was adjusting to the change in residence. Indeed, the opposition to his coming to the U.N. had been so fierce that President Bush decided to make a recess appointment. So Mr. Bolton could be forgiven if he viewed New York as a refuge after the maelstrom in Washington.
On the other hand, his earlier critical views about the 191-member world body hadn't endeared him to the gray suit and cocktails set. So wasn't he leaping from the frying pan into the fire?
"Actually, I've been received very cordially at the U.N.," Mr. Bolton said, adding that his comment covered virtually everyone other than diplomats from Cuba, North Korea and Syria. These countries have long been less than cordial toward America. Little wonder then that their diplomats don't get invited to Mr. Bolton's soirees.
"And I will not invite the editorial board of the New York Times," Mr. Bolton said, chuckling. "Whatever do they think?"
Other than unfriendly editorial writers and intransigent diplomats, was there anything about the city that he hasn't liked thus far?
Mr. Bolton wasn't about to go there - not when he was dining in a room which featured, among others, prominent New Yorkers such as Mayor Koch; the recently retired Citigroup chairman, Sanford Weill; the chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, Peter Peterson; and the founder of Lightyear Capital, Donald Marron.
Mr. Marron, in fact, came over to Mr. Bolton, and the two men exchanged warm greetings. Mayor Koch came over as well. The restaurant's owners, Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder hovered solicitously, along with the manager Trideep Bose. A third owner, Edgar Bronfman Jr. occupied a nearby banquette, but seemed too intently conversing with his guest to do much meeting and greeting.
Mr. Bolton was clearly relishing the scene. Of course, he could not have not known that his politics - very conservative - weren't exactly welcome in this room. But his celebrity certainly drew attention.
"My problem with New York is that I don't get to see enough of it," Mr. Bolton said.
That's understandable. His days start at 4 o'clock in the morning in a hotel suite that U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. have traditionally called home - the Waldorf Towers. He reads and attends to e-mail. Then Mr. Bolton sets off for his office on East 45th street, usually arriving by 7 a.m. He's at work for the next 14 hours.
"I've often been stopped by pedestrians who say, 'Hey, Ambassador Bolton, keep doing the nice job,'" Mr. Bolton said. "That's a big morale booster. I've received a very warm reception in this town."
But it isn't as though Washington doesn't keep pulling him back, notwithstanding his change in domicile. Mr. Bolton must visit Congress and various offices of the executive branch several times a month.
"John Negroponte once told me that being U.S. permanent representative to the U.N. was the only job he ever had that gave him appreciation of what it's like to be a member of Congress," Mr. Bolton said, referring to his predecessor who now oversees national security. "I now fully understand what it's like to fly back and forth between Washington and one's constituency."
Mr. Bolton can call the U.N. his constituency only until January 2007, when his recess appointment formally ends. At that point, the president can either re-nominate him, or can make another recess appointment. Mr. Bolton doesn't much care to speculate on what Mr. Bush might do
"I serve at the pleasure of the president," Mr. Bolton said. "There's still a lot to be done here meantime."
In addition to thorny issues such as Iran's nuclear ambitions, that means focusing these days on two key topics: reform of the sprawling U.N. system, and the election of the next secretary general.
"There's long been a culture of inaction at the U.N. There doesn't exist a bureaucracy that cannot be trimmed," Mr. Bolton said. "At the U.N., there's the problem of ossification. There needs to be a culture of change."
He said that such change would be "ultimately tied to the election of a new secretary general."
As envoy of the one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, which formally elects the secretary general, Mr. Bolton is playing a significant role in the process. He was understandably reluctant to discuss specific candidates, announced or incipient.
"We expect the next secretary general from outside the organization," he said, seemingly ruling out the possibility that some leading U.N. bureaucrats mentioned as possibilities might encounter disappointment.
Mr. Bolton also said that although Asians have claimed it's their turn at stewardship, "We don't think there should be a geographical allocation. We want the best possible candidate for the job. We want someone who can run the organization like a chief administrative officer."
He added: "And what about gender representation? There's never been a woman secretary general of the U.N."
It just happened that on this very day, a woman who's reportedly in the running for the job, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia, was visiting with Mr. Bolton's boss, President Bush.
Was she the White House's favorite?
But Mr. Bolton - a veteran of diplomatic exchanges - was scarcely about to give anything away. No nudge, no wink, not even a suggestive half-smile. That would have been so Washington.
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist