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Former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) is expected to receive overwhelming support in his former chamber later this month when members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vet his credentials to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The committee is zeroing in on June 17 as the day when Danforth will explain to the panel how he plans to tackle this tricky diplomatic assignment.

President Bush announced late last week that he was selecting Danforth to succeed John Negroponte as his chief envoy in New York. Negroponte is moving to Iraq to serve as the U.S. ambassador to that war-torn country.

Foreign Relations Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) said it is “very important” for the Senate to act quickly on Danforth’s nomination, just as it did when it recently confirmed Negroponte for his new post.

“I think he will be an excellent ambassador,” said Lugar, who, like Danforth, was elected to the Senate in 1976. “I have a lot of confidence in him.”

It is unlikely that Danforth will face much, if any, opposition from Democrats either at the committee or when his nomination advances to the floor.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, a senior Democrat on the committee, said he spoke to Danforth on Monday and described his former colleague as a “great choice” by the administration.

“He is highly regarded, and I think he is a fine choice,” Dodd said. “My intention would be to support him.”

Dodd pointed to Danforth’s work as Bush’s emissary in trying to construct a peace agreement in Sudan as valuable experience for his assignment in New York.

“Jack Danforth has done a very good job in the Sudan under very difficult circumstances,” Dodd said. “He has already created some relationships in many of the Third World countries. It will be critically important at the U.N.”

Lugar said he hopes to have Danforth’s nomination voted out of his committee and approved by the full Senate no later than the July Fourth recess, which begins June 28.

Danforth will face a challenge at the U.N. He will be a chief international envoy for a Bush administration whose unilateral actions in Iraq irritated many world leaders — yet he will continue to seek support for Iraqi stabilization from the international community.

Dodd — echoing complaints sounded by critics of the administration’s post-war planning — said that one of Danforth’s biggest challenges will be to reverse the perception that the United States does not care about creating international alliances.

“I think trying to overcome this reputation or perception [that] this administration is less interested in working with international organizations is a hurdle” for Danforth, Dodd said.

The U.S. made a major stride toward this goal yesterday when the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the United States’ plan to transfer power to a new Iraqi government.

Before Danforth addresses his anticipated role as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, he will serve this week in another high-profile capacity. Danforth, an Episcopal minister, will preside over President Ronald Reagan’s funeral service Friday at the National Cathedral before the former president’s body is flown back to California for burial.

Danforth was first elected to the Senate in 1976, serving three terms in the chamber before retiring in 1995. A defining moment in Danforth’s Senate career came during his successful efforts to shepherd the confirmation of Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court justice, despite accusations of sexual harassment made against Thomas.

Danforth has been brought back into politics several times as a widely respected elder statesman. In addition to trying to resolve the Sudan crisis, Danforth was tapped by then-Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate the FBI’s actions in the bloody 1993 standoff with the Branch Davidians’ religious cult near Waco, Texas.

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