The former US secretary of state Colin Powell has waded into the dispute over John Bolton, nominated to be the next US envoy to the UN, by expressing reservations to senators about Bolton's suitability.
Powell's intervention futher damaged Bolton's chances of Senate confirmation, which was postponed for several weeks after Republican moderates had second thoughts over Bolton's reputation for bullying subordinates.
The affair also marks Powell's most serious conflict with the White House since leaving the administration in January. His telephone conversations about Bolton with two Republican senators, Lincoln Chafee and Chuck Hagel, were private, but Powell's aides confirmed the calls had been made and let it be known that he had given Bolton mixed reviews for his performance as an under-secretary of state in the administration's first term.
Powell had already declined to sign a letter by seven other former secretaries of state endorsing Bolton, and his former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, told the New York Times that Bolton would be an "abysmal ambassador."
Powell's entry into the Bolton row is an embarrassment for President Bush, who gave the nominee his emphatic support on Thursday and dismissed resistance to the appointment as a partisan Democratic maneuver.
After several diplomats came forward this week alleging that Bolton had insulted them for holding differing views to him, support from Republican moderates on the Senate committee wavered, and Senator George Voinovich called for a postponement in the confirmation vote, asking for more time to study the nominee's past.
Joshua Micah Marshall, a Washington commentator, suggested Powell's quiet telephone calls "may well be fatal to Bolton's nomination."
"Republican senators looking to deny the White House this nomination need some partisan cover, and Powell just gave it to them."