Negroponte Confirmed as Ambassador to Iraq

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Senate overwhelmingly confirmed John D. Negroponte (search) Thursday to be the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq (search).

In a vote of 95 to 3, Negroponte takes on what one senator called "the most difficult and dangerous job in U.S. diplomacy."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dick Lugar (search), R-Ind., called the new post, "one of the most consequential ambassadorships in American history.

"The ambassador to Iraq not only will be called upon to lead an estimated 1,700 embassy personnel, he will be the focal point of international efforts to secure and reconstruct Iraq and provide the developing Iraqi government with the opportunity to achieve responsible nationhood," Lugar said. Of the 1,700 embassy staff, 1,000 will be American and 700 Iraqi.

Though he called the Bush administration's policies in Iraq "seriously wanting," Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the Foreign Relations Committee's ranking Democrat, called Negroponte "a serious diplomat" and predicted he would be "more likely to be unequivocal in his dealings with Congress."

Many Democrats took to the floor Thursday during the debate on the nomination to denounce the administration's handling of the Iraqi prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib (search). Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa went as far as to call for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation. Harkin also voted against the Negroponte nomination.

The Senate, often called the "world's most deliberative body," normally does not act with great swiftness on matters before it, but many senators, recognizing the gravity and enormity of getting an embassy up and running in the hostile territory in Iraq acted in a little more than two weeks to confirm this nominee.

The United States will hand over governing authority to the Iraqis on June 30. At that time, Coalition Provisional Authority (search) head L. Paul Bremer will step down as chief administrator of the country and Negroponte will become the highest-ranking U.S. civilian there.