Clinton invokes Bush-era pick in defense of Chris Hill

By Danny

Mar 16, 2009 4:52pm

ABC News’ Kirit Radia and Z. Byron Wolf report:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood behind Ambassador Christopher Hill, the Obama administration’s pick for ambassador to Iraq who has been opposed by GOP senators McCain, Graham, and Brownback, saying he is just as qualified as a Bush administration nominee the three Republicans supported.

The Republicans faulted Hill for lacking experience in the Middle East or working with the US military.

"I think both of those criticisms are unjustified and unfounded. Chris Hill is a distinguished, experienced diplomat who has served in some very difficult positions on behalf of our country," Clinton told reporters in response to a question following a meeting with her Irish counterpart.

Last Thursday McCain and Graham voiced their opposition to Hill’s nomination in a joint statement saying, in part:

"The next ambassador should have experience in the Middle East and in working closely with the U.S. military in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations. Mr. Hill has neither. Given these considerations, together with the controversial legacy Mr. Hill left in his North Korea diplomacy, we believe that the President should reconsider this nomination."

Today, Secretary Clinton likened Ambassador Hill to former Ambassador John Negroponte, who was nominated for the same post under the Bush administration, despite not having any Middle East experience.

"Another very distinguished, experienced diplomat, John Negroponte, was our ambassador to Iraq. He did not have Middle East or Arabic-language skills when he was sent to Iraq. I believe the people you’ve just mentioned, my former colleagues, all voted for former deputy secretary Negroponte," she said.

Indeed, all three Senators voted to confirm Negroponte as Ambassador to Iraq on May 6, 2004.

McCain even spoke on the Senate floor before the vote to support Negroponte’s nomination, and chastised colleagues who sought to delay his confirmation.

"I also would like to comment on my friend John Negroponte. I have known John Negroponte ever since he was ambassador to Mexico, where he did an outstanding job. He has held a broad variety of positions in both Republican and Democrat administrations. I believe he will perform admirably in the position for which the President of the United States has nominated him," McCain said before the 2004 vote.

"There probably would have been a lot less discussion about Mr. Negroponte’s qualifications if it had not been for the difficulties we are experiencing in Iraq at the moment, but I would also point out it also lends some urgency to getting this highly qualified, patriotic American in position as we prepare to turn over the government of Iraq to the Iraqi people, which I think all of us are in agreement should be done as quickly as possible," he added.

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