WASHINGTON -- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday postponed until Tuesday the vote on John R. Bolton's nomination as US ambassador to the United Nations amid continued controversy over Bolton's suitability for the post.
The decision was made a day after Carl Ford Jr., a former State Department intelligence chief, testified that Bolton tried to punish and intimidate a State Department analyst who argued that Bolton should not assert in a speech that Cuba has an offensive biological weapons program. The analyst believed Bolton's proposed speech exaggerated the threat posed by Cuba.
Yesterday, Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, formally requested that the committee chairman, Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, hold an additional hearing to allow three more witnesses to testify about Bolton's alleged treatment of the analyst and a second analyst at the CIA who also disagreed with Bolton's assessments on Cuba.
Dodd asked for Thomas Fingar, assistant secretary of state for intelligence, Neil Silver, director of the strategic proliferation office, and Stuart Cohen, a former acting chief of the National Intelligence Council, to be brought before the committee.
Andy Fisher, an aide to Lugar, indicated yesterday that Lugar would not grant the request. Fisher said yesterday afternoon that a hearing was not needed because committee staff had interviewed the three witnesses. ''We are prepared to vote," he said.
But Lugar agreed to postpone the vote to give committee members enough time to read State Department documents about Bolton that had not been made available earlier.
Congressional aides said that they would issue written questions to the witnesses and that they were also probing another possible allegation that Bolton had intimidated a third analyst, this time on an issue involving China.
In the hearing Tuesday, Democratic senators said the matter should be taken seriously because suspect intelligence led the United States into a war with Iraq. The issue has stirred debate about Bolton, who was a controversial candidate because of his criticisms of the United Nations.
The delay in the vote gives Democrats more time to find evidence that might persuade Senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, to vote against Bolton. Chafee, whose vote could defeat the nomination, said after Tuesday's hearing that he was still listening to the evidence, but that he had not yet seen a pattern of so-called abuse serious enough to merit voting against Bolton.
Yesterday, in the wake of Ford's description of Bolton as a ''serial abuser," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended President's Bush's choice of ambassador as the best person to bring reform the world body.
''It's certainly not the John Bolton that I know or that a lot of other people know," Rice said yesterday, when asked about the allegations. ''I expect that John is going to be a very good leader of the people who are diplomats at the United States' UN mission.
''He has a lot of people who have worked for him who are loyal to him, and where he has brought out the best in his people. And that's the management that I expect from John and I fully expect to see," she said.