U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on 7 March said Bolton would be a strong voice for improving the organization's ability to meet threats to peace and security. "The president and I have asked John to do this work because he knows how to get things done," Rice said. "He is a tough-minded diplomat. He has a strong record of success, and he has a proven track record of effective multilateralism."
Bolton has served for the past four years as the U.S. State Department's top official on disarmament affairs. In that post, he has pressed for the isolation of Iran and North Korea and possible punitive measures for their suspected development of nuclear arms.
He has also upset some of Washington's European allies with his critical comments on international conventions.
At the UN conference on small arms four years ago, he successfully argued against setting up a mandatory review conference on small arms proliferation and a binding document limiting their sale. It was more effective, he said, for the United States to work with other countries to improve their monitoring of arms transfers.
Bolton also has been at the forefront of the Bush administration's opposition to a legally binding inspection plan for the biological-weapons treaty. He says a protocol on inspection would not be effective against countries and non-state actors already believed to have germ-warfare programs.
At the same time, Bolton has helped advance the Proliferation Security Initiative, an alliance of countries working to intercept the flow of weapons of mass destruction by sea and air.
In initial comments on 7 March, Bolton said he supported effective multilateral diplomacy and what he called the "time-honored tradition of frank communication" to achieve U.S. goals at the UN. "American leadership is critical to the success of the UN, an effective UN, one that is true to the original intent of its charter's framers," Bolton said. "This is a time of opportunity for the UN, which likewise requires American leadership to achieve successful reform."
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Bolton will arrive at the UN in a year dominated by reform issues, including a possible realignment of the UN Security Council. The organization has also been tainted by emerging information about scandals in the oil-for-food program in Iraq and the sexual abuse of minors by UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Republican members of the U.S. Congress have threatened to curtail U.S. funding of the United Nations unless the abuses are thoroughly investigated.
The Bush administration at the start of its second term, meanwhile, has mounted diplomatic efforts to repair relations with allies. Washington's failure to get explicit Security Council authorization for the war in Iraq has limited support from key states for Iraqi reconstruction efforts.
But the choice of Bolton to be the administration's chief representative at the UN is seen by some as antagonistic at a crucial time.
Suzanne DiMaggio directs global policy programs at the United Nations Association, a New York-based institute, which supports U.S. engagement in the United Nations. She told RFE/RL she has serious doubts about Bolton's ability to advance U.S. diplomacy at the UN. "I think U.S. leadership at the UN arguably is at a more critical stage than in the recent past for sure," she said, "and as such I think the appointment of Mr. Bolton for many of us is not a positive sign of the direction that this administration seeks to go."
But Secretary of State Rice said in announcing Bolton's nomination that he will be tasked with building a broader base of support in the United States for the UN and its mission.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Kofi Annan looks forward to working with Bolton on reform issues. "We have nothing against people who do hold us accountable," Dujarric said. "On the contrary, I think we do want to be held accountable and that's one of the issues we've been working on the last months and will be working on in the months ahead."
A number of Democrats on the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee criticized Bolton as a divisive figure for the UN post.
Some Security Council members expressed puzzlement at the choice. But others were less concerned. Algeria's UN ambassador, Abdallah Baali, said he is neither surprised nor worried by the choice of Bolton. "I'm not having any kind of apprehensions," Baali said. "He will have his views, he has certainly strong views about the United Nations and this is the place where we can confront our views and try to do what is best for the United Nations."
Bolton has served in a number of high-level posts in the previous Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
He was an assistant secretary of state for international organizations before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and helped build an alliance with European and Arab countries to push Iraq forces out of Kuwait.