So controversial that he couldn't win Senate confirmation, John Bolton, 57, became U.S. ambassador to the United Nations after President Bush installed him via a recess appointment last August. Blunt and outspoken, he chatted with TIME's Elaine Shannon and Romesh Ratnesar about being part of the bureaucracy, Iran's nuclear program and who should succeed Kofi Annan.
YOU ONCE SAID THAT IF THE U.N. LOST 10 FLOORS "IT WOULDN'T MAKE A BIT OF DIFFERENCE." DO YOU STILL FEEL ALL THOSE FLOORS ARE EXPENDABLE? The statement about losing 10 floors was made in the context that there's not a bureaucracy in the world that can't be more efficient. What we're trying to address is whether different reform efforts that we've undertaken can make the organization better, more agile, more effective and more transparent.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST SURPRISE ABOUT THE JOB? I'm very surprised by New Yorkers who come up to me on the street and say, "Hey, Ambassador Bolton, you're doing a great job," or "Give 'em hell," or something like that. I don't know why they say it, but it's nice when it happens.
THE ISSUE OF IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM WILL COME BEFORE THE SECURITY COUNCIL NEXT MONTH. DO YOU THINK THE DISPUTE CAN BE RESOLVED DIPLOMATICALLY? Sure. I never would have guessed that Libya was prepared to make the calculation that they were safer giving up the pursuit of nuclear weapons than continuing to go after them, and yet they did [give them up]. And that led to substantial progress in the relationship between Libya and the United States. If Libya can do it, Iran can do it too. That's why I say the decision ultimately is largely in their hands.
THAT'S NOT A COMFORTABLE POSITION FOR THE U.S. It's not as if we're sitting, waiting for them to decide. The Administration has believed for over three years that the Iranian nuclear-weapons program should have been referred to the Security Council because the program constitutes a threat to international peace and security. Now it's here. And now that it's in New York, we have the ability and we should--if the Iranians don't change their policy--increase the pressure on them to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN HAS CALLED ON THE WEST TO STEP UP EFFORTS TO STOP THE KILLING IN DARFUR. IS GENOCIDE THE RIGHT TERM FOR WHAT'S HAPPENING? Sounds right to me.
SO SHOULDN'T THERE BE A MORE AGGRESSIVE RESPONSE? It's easy to be casual about putting military people into play when their lives can be lost. You could end up with a lot of dead military people and not save a single civilian. I don't think that's a sign of success.
DO YOU HAVE A VIEW ON WHO SHOULD SUCCEED ANNAN AS SECRETARY-GENERAL? I have lots of views on lots of things. But the official American position is, we have never accepted any notion of geographical rotation and we favor the best-qualified candidate, wherever that candidate comes from. If the best-qualified person is an Asian, we'd be delighted. If the best-qualified person is from somewhere else, we'd be delighted at that too. Western Europe has had three Secretaries-General, Latin America has had one, Africa has had two, and Asia has had one. Eastern Europe has never had any. If there's really a principle of geographic rotation, fairness dictates that Eastern Europe get one.