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Many U.N. watchers who have anxiously awaited the appointment of a new United States ambassador to the United Nations remain uncertain after the announcement of the nomination of John Negroponte to the post.
If confirmed by the Senate, Negroponte will succeed Clinton appointee Richard Holbrooke, who hailed Negroponte, a multi-lingual career diplomat, as a “superb professional.” Yet, U.N. booster associations, abortion-rights groups and pro-life advocates alike have not yet determined whether his appointment aids or hampers their cause.
U.N. press releases have a studied neutral tone on the nomination.
“We don’t know if we should cheer or fear,” concluded one U.N. official who requested anonymity, “we’re waiting for some reaction, a response from above.”
The Bush administration has reinstated the “Mexico City policy,” angering abortion-rights groups who see the policy as a serious setback. That policy prohibits use of U.S. funds to promote abortion abroad.
Pro-abortion organizations stung by the resurrection of the Mexico City policy have anticipated with misgivings the announcement of the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N. That post, they say, is crucial to the U.S. leadership at the U.N. on the scope and depth of reproductive health programs initiated by various U.N. conferences. But Negroponte’s nomination has brought no strong responses from abortion-rights groups.
“We’re cautious,” reported Glenn Mones, media director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Mones pointed to “human-rights abuses that occurred on Negroponte’s watch” as ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s — the years of the Iran- Contra controversy.
“But, we don’t know his position on reproductive rights,” said Mones, who admitted that his organization was investigating Negroponte’s stance on those issues. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as well as Planned Parenthood Federation International, have a strong presence at the United Nations as non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, with consultative status. The work of PPFA at the U.N. includes working with the U.S. delegations on women and children’s reproductive health issues.
“At this point we are not supporting or opposing the nomination,” said Mones.
On the other side, Colleen Parro of the Republican National Coalition for Life wrote in the Coalition’s FaxNotes: “While some Catholic and pro-life leaders sought assurances from Bush during the campaign that he would appoint a pro-life U.N. ambassador, their hopes may go unfulfilled. If anyone has evidence of pro-life leanings on the part of Mr. Negroponte, we would appreciate knowing about it.”
Oddly, the call for information on the nominee is indicative of the lack of material available on a candidate whose diplomatic career spans decades. At 61, Negroponte has a voluminous record, yet little to indicate his personal ideology. Parro points out that Negroponte and Secretary of State Colin Powell are close associates and that Powell favors abortion rights.
“This is a major concern,” Parro said. The FaxNotes also mentions Negroponte’s membership in the Council on Foreign Relations, an organization not known to favor pro-life policies.
Barbara Baldwin of the Colorado office of National Abortion Rights Action League said her organization “is not taking a stand [on the nomination] at this time. Negroponte has not established a record on women’s reproductive issues.” Baldwin’s counterpart at National Right to Life held a similar position, “There is very little information on this nominee. We are not prepared to comment at this time.”
However, Austin Ruse of Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, an NGO active at the United Nations, voiced reservations about the Bush administration’s professional team that remains in place at the U.N. His organization’s Feb. 9 issue of the Friday Fax finds the continued presence of veteran negotiator Margaret Pollack troubling.
“Pollack sat in the lead chair at meetings where the Clinton administration attempted to strike down all conscience clauses that protected medical personnel from having to participate in abortions,” writes Ruse.
“It surprised many pro-family conservatives last week to see Ambassador Betty King serving on the delegation to the preparatory committee meeting for the upcoming Child Summit,” the Fax continues. “King has been a fixture at U.N. meetings for years and had been at the center of Clinton administration attempts to use U.N. documents to advance ‘abortion rights’ into the developing world.”
This observation comes just days after pro-lifers were buoyed by the new direction clearly signaled by the Bush administration’s statement to the preparatory committee in which parental rights were stressed.
If the professionals who remain as holdovers from the Clinton administration are an indication of the sort of candidate that was sought for the U.N. ambassadorship, then pro-life organizations have reason for withholding their support for Negroponte, observed several pro-life advocates.
While most life-issues organizations scramble to gather information that will enable them to support or oppose the Negroponte confirmation, Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis magazine based in Washington, D.C., found Negroponte to be a solid nomination for the post of U.N. ambassador. “Pro-life advocates can take comfort in this nomination. Negroponte is Greek Orthodox and has five adopted children,” he said.
Beyond the life-issues question, seasoned diplomats expected this newest of the Bush appointments to give an indication of the role the U.N. will play in U.S. foreign policy.
Some had feared that the Bush team would downplay the importance of the U.N. and thus send a second-tier nominee to the U.N.
James Paul is executive director of Global Policy Forum in New York City, a U.N. watchdog group that works closely with NGOs, both national and international. Paul had just concluded a meeting with international NGO representatives when he spoke with WorldNetDaily.
“This nomination does not represent a diminishment of the post of U.N. ambassador. Negroponte is no less than a Holbrooke,” Paul commented. The message, if any nomination is seen as a message, he said, is that “the Bush administration has chosen a professional for this post, and that it will not be at the cabinet level is not significant. It is not like the U.K. Here the cabinet-level designation is only a symbol. Negroponte will still have direct access to the president.”
Conceding that his organization had not yet studied Negroponte on certain issues of great import to the non-governmental organizations, Paul did observe that there were reservations from the international NGOs, particularly on human-rights issues, including reproductive rights. The overriding factor however, for Paul, is that even under Clinton, the “U.N. was ditched. The U.N. really didn’t do very well, and this in spite of Clinton’s stated support of the U.N. as important to U.S. foreign policy. The fact is, Clinton was unwilling to expend the political capital to avert the crisis at the U.N in 1995.” Paul referred to the dues disagreement between the U.N. and the U.S.
“He is not the sort of person NGOs have warmed up to in the past, but we will have to wait and see,” Paul added.
Career diplomats have described Negroponte as “gracious, discreet and loyal” — characteristics, they note, that are prized by both Colin Powell and George W. Bush.