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Senate confirms Holbrooke as U.N. ambassador

GOP leaders vote against the nomination that they have stalled for months as leverage against the president.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to confirm Richard C. Holbrooke as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, ending a lengthy stall by Republicans who held the nomination hostage in a largely futile attempt to force concessions from President Clinton on other issues.

Despite a year of ethics inquiries and political maneuvering, Holbrooke, 58, a veteran diplomat and trouble-shooter who has played a key role in Balkan diplomacy, was confirmed by a vote of 81-16 after only a half-hour of debate.

Among those voting against his confirmation were Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., Assistant Majority Leader Don Nickles, R-Okla., and most other top GOP leaders, all of whom have sharply criticized the president's foreign policy, especially toward the Balkans.

Holbrooke's confirmation troubles underscored the sour relations between GOP leaders and the White House, dramatized the GOP's increasing use of "holds" to force the administration to heed the party's demands and showed that senators can still evade a new policy intended to force public disclosure of delaying tactics.

The U.N. post has been empty since September, when Bill Richardson left to head the Energy Department. In recent weeks, the Senate's GOP leadership ran into increasing criticism from senators of both parties as well as Pentagon officials for leaving the post vacant at a critical juncture in U.N.-led efforts to create a stable government in Kosovo.

Both Clinton and Holbrooke issued statements saying they were "deeply gratified" by the Senate's action. Clinton praised Holbrooke for his "commitment to public service and especially for his willingness to persevere through the confirmation process."

Holbrooke is a former ambassador to Germany and assistant secretary of state who brokered the 1995 peace agreement in Bosnia. During the brief Senate debate Thursday, he was hailed as eminently qualified for the U.N. post by several Democrats and Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, R-Va., who had been prodding the GOP leadership to act on the nomination.

Warner said Holbrooke is "better qualified than anyone I know of to undertaken this mission."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, the only senator to speak out against his confirmation, said she regarded Holbrooke as a "principled man" and admired his tenacity but opposed his "foreign policy principles" as a danger to national security.

In the Balkans, in particular, she said, he would "force factions to live together in an American model" despite vastly different circumstances.