WASHINGTON (AFP) — Christopher Hill, whom US President Barack Obama has named as the new ambassador to Iraq, has a reputation as a shrewd career diplomat who has tackled some of the thorniest international problems.
Hill, a media-friendly diplomat, has served as the lead negotiator in efforts to scrap North Korea's nuclear programs and as a top negotiator for the Dayton Peace Accords ending the war in Bosnia.
In announcing his appointment Friday, which must still be confirmed by the US Senate, Obama said "Ambassador Hill has been tested, and he has shown the pragmatism and skill that we need right now."
Unlike his predecessor Ryan Crocker -- who spent most of his career in the Middle East and is a fluent Arabic speaker -- Hill has spent most of his career in Europe and Asia.
However author Glenn Kessler painted Hill as a skillfull diplomat in "Confidante," a biography of former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who was Hill's boss during his role as nuclear negotiator.
"Hill, who has a dry wit and an easy manner, is a career foreign service officer with a reputation for making deals -- and sometimes stretching his instructions in order to get them," Kessler wrote.
"Though Hill had no experience with the North Koreans he was the epitome of a creative diplomat, someone willing to take chances and push the envelope," he added.
As assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Hill has been the US pointman for the six-party negotiations aimed at scrapping North Korea's weapons-grade nuclear programs.
He helped lead a shift away from the hardline policies of former president George W. Bush's administration which had once lumped North Korea in an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran and which had pushed for isolating the Stalinist regime.
Under a landmark agreement signed in 2007, North Korea agreed with its five partners -- the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia -- to scrap its nuclear programs in exchange for energy aid.
But the negotiations deadlocked late last year over a dispute with North Korea over how to verify nuclear disarmament.
Hill came under fire from hardliners like John Bolton, the former UN ambassador in the Bush administration, after he traveled to Pyongyang in October last year to secure verbal commitments on verification.
Days later the Bush administration struck North Korea from a terror blacklist after saying Pyongyang agreed to steps to verify its nuclear disarmament and pledged to resume disabling its atomic plants.
But the negotiations lapsed after the North Koreans never agreed to put the deal in writing.
Last month, Hill admitted North Korean disarmament talks had been "a pretty tough assignment" and that there had been "too many interruptions" in the negotiations.
Selig Harrison, a North Korea expert who visited Pyongyang earlier this year, praised Hill for his "deft handling of North Korea."
Before his work on North Korea, Hill served as ambassador to Poland (2000-2004), ambassador to Macedonia (1996-1999) and Special Envoy to Kosovo (1998-1999).
He also served as special assistant to the president and senior director for Southeast European Affairs in the National Security Council.
"He came to president Bush's attention when the president of Poland lavishly praised Hill's performance as ambassador there and requested that Hill stay on," Kessler added.
Hill is considered a protege of Richard Holbrooke, now the Obama administration's envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan who is best known for brokering the Dayton Peace Accords.
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