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Former interim U.N. Ambassador John Bolton addresses U.S. foreign policy challenges

The next U.S. president will face a host of foreign policy challenges, but nuclear weapons containment should remain a top priority, former interim U.N. Ambassador John Bolton told a packed audience at the Baker Institute for Public Policy on Oct. 14.

If, in particular, North Korea keeps its nuclear weaponry and Iran acquires its own, other countries could follow suit, making "a much less safe Middle East and a much more dangerous world," Bolton said.

Currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Bolton served as the U.S."s permanent representative to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006. Previously, he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security for the Bush administration. His wide-ranging remarks to 150 guests and Rice University students were part of the institute's Campaign 2008 lecture series.

Bolton said the United States "lost leverage" by agreeing to delist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism earlier this month. "The simple fact is that Kim Jong-il is never voluntarily going to give up nuclear weapons," Bolton said. The United States will not have "the kind of verification we need in that incredibly closed society" to be confident the North Koreans are serious about commitments to disarm, he added.

Bolton is similarly pessimistic about arms negotiations with Iran, which is five years into talks with Europe about suspending its uranium enrichment program--and is still rapidly moving toward weapons capability. Without naming names, Bolton said only one presidential candidate has the correct approach to the problem: The "candidate who has said, ¬タリThe only thing more unattractive than the military option is an Iran with nuclear weapons" has it about right."

Israel could "come to a decision on the use of military force against Iran before the inauguration of our next president," Bolton said.

Developing situations elsewhere in the world will also compete for the new president"s attention. The future of China, for instance, will be one of the chief executive"s most pressing concerns, Bolton said. Modern prosperity doesn"t necessarily mean stability or continued economic growth for the Asian giant, especially if its long, tumultuous history of wars and political upheaval is taken into account. "Obviously we all hope for better relations, continuing good relations, the peaceful rise of China, but it is not inevitable," Bolton said.

To the north, Russia--flush with oil and gas riches--demonstrated a willingness to use its revitalized military forces in Georgia last August. While some may say the action was just and provoked by the Georgians, "I think that the size, the scope and the planning behind Russian military incursion showed this was contemplated long before. It was just a question of which provocation the Russians seized. I think the response from the west has been entirely inadequate," he said

In Europe, a politically integrated union of countries continues to "decline as an effective player in international affairs," Bolton said. The United States would have found greater support if more countries could set their own policies, he added.

The Campaign 2008 lecture series is a year-long bipartisan effort by the Baker Institute to reach and educate policymakers about the issues central to the race for the U.S. presidency. Previous events have addressed topics including health care, the economy and the electoral process.