Obama Admin Defends Pick for Ambassador to Iraq From GOP Critics

By Kate Barrett

Mar 13, 2009 2:39pm

ABC News’ Kirit Radia Reports: The Obama administration is standing by its man.

Yesterday GOP senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Sam Brownback issued statements opposing Ambassador Christopher Hill’s nomination to be the next US ambassador to Iraq.

McCain and Graham cited Hill’s lack of experience both in the Middle East and in counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism. Brownback said as much, adding that Hill had been "evasive and unprofessional" in his dealings with Congress. The senators’ opposition suggests one of them may even put a hold on his nomination.

Asked about the senators’ concerns, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stood squarely behind Hill.

"The president has extraordinary respect for his ability. I think he’s proven his ability to understand very complex political situations, to resolve those political situations. Obviously, Iraq is a very unique situation, and the president believes that Chris Hill is uniquely qualified to meet those challenges," Gibbs said.

The State Department echoed those remarks, saying Hill would consult with lawmakers ahead of his confirmation hearings.

"Ambassador Hill looks forward to confirmation hearings in which he can address the senators’ concerns and go into more detail about his record. He is ready for those hearings," State Department acting deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters.

"We have full confidence in Ambassador Hill. We feel that he is an excellent candidate," Duguid added.

Hill most recently served as the US envoy to the Six Party Talks, aimed at removing North Korea’s nuclear program. Though he was initially praised for making progress in the talks after Pyongyang tested a crude nuclear weapon in 2006, he was criticized late last year after North Korea reneged on a verbal commitment given to Hill during an October visit to the reclusive totalitarian country.

Hill made a name for himself as a negotiator when he was part of the US team that brokered the Dayton Accords, ending violence in Bosnia in the 1990s.

He has previously served as Ambassador to Poland, the Republic of Macedonia, and as special envoy to Kosovo.

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