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United Nations: Clinton Selects Bosnia Veteran For Ambassador Post

  • Kevin Foley

Washington, 19 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- President Bill Clinton made two key changes in his cabinet Thursday, naming a new secretary for energy and a new ambassador to the United Nations.

In an announcement from the White House, Clinton nominated veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke for the post of ambassador to the U.N., where he would succeed Bill Richardson, who was nominated by Clinton to be head of the U.S. Department of Energy. Richardson would succeed Federico Pena, who told Clinton several weeks ago that he wanted to return to private life to spend more time with his family.

Clinton noted that Holbrooke is "already a familiar face around the globe." The president gave Holbrooke much of the credit for mediating the 1995 peace talks that ended more than four years of civil war in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia. Holbrooke was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his Bosnia effort.

Standing with Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, Holbrooke said he was pleased to "be working for and with" Madeleine Albright. He said he was "deeply honored to be a part of Madeleine's superb team at the State Department, which she leads with such distinction."

Holbrooke said that he still believes in the importance and the necessity of the United Nations, despite what he said were its many problems and failures.

Holbrooke is 57-years-old. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1962 and rose rapidly through the ranks, holding a number of important posts, including service on the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Talks that ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in 1973. In 1977, former president Jimmy Carter named Holbrooke assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, a post he held until 1981.

Holbrooke also served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and, in 1994, he was appointed assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian Affairs.

Holbrooke has a reputation for being aggressive and strong-willed. He once explained his blunt approach to the warring factions in the former Yugoslavia by saying: "Dealing with people who are liars and in some cases killers, dealing with people who are desperate, dealing with traditions, you just have to get very tough."

Although he resigned his official position as assistant secretary of state and joined a private New York City investment firm shortly after the Bosnian peace accords were signed, Holbrooke has remained active in diplomatic affairs. He served as Clinton's special envoy for Cyprus, and he has also worked with the State Department in the effort to convince the Yugoslav government in Belgrade to negotiate with ethnic Albanians in the Serb province of Kosovo.

Holbrooke has also been active in U.S. Democratic Party politics. He served as a foreign policy adviser during President Carter's 1976 campaign, and he also served as a consultant to Vice President Gore's unsuccessful campaign for the 1988 Democratic Party presidential nomination. Gore is regarded as the favorite to be the party's presidential nominee in the year 2000. Clinton is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution from serving more than two terms.

During his tenure at the United Nations, Richardson was a highly visible member of the U.S. team that sought to force international weapons inspections on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Clinton appointed Richardson to the U.N. post in January 1997, shortly after Clinton's inauguration to his second four-year term. Richardson followed current Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Like Clinton, Richardson is a politician, and he has made it known in Washington that he wants to return to politics. He joined the Clinton cabinet after serving seven two-year terms as a member of the House of Representatives from the southwestern state of New Mexico.

Richardson, like Clinton a member of the Democratic Party, reportedly has told friends that he wants to be governor of New Mexico. He has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for vice president in the year 2000. Richardson is said to have told the White House of his interest in the Energy Department post earlier this month. The agency operates several facilities in New Mexico.

New Mexico also has a large Hispanic population. Richardson's mother is of Mexican ancestry and he speaks Spanish fluently.

Clinton saluted Richardson, calling him a "vigorous and articulate proponent of our engagement around the world and the importance of leveraging that engagement by living up to our United Nations obligations."

He also said Richardson has firsthand experience in deregulating the oil and gas industries, and in promoting alternative sources of energy.