Candidate for U.N. post is untested in Middle East

But the New York Times reported over the weekend that his nomination is all but a done deal.

The appointment would still require Senate confirmation.

Israel's defenders at the United Nations expect the new ambassador to have his hands full at the world body, as the knives may be out for Israel following the election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister.

Many in the Arab and Muslim worlds, which dominates the United Nations, view Sharon as a war criminal.

Despite their unfamiliarity with Negroponte, pro-Israel advocates say they are satisfied with what they have heard about him so far.

"The word we have is that he'll be fine on our issues," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Negroponte was a career diplomat until 1997, when he joined the publishing giant McGraw-Hill as executive vice president for global markets.

While in the State Department, he sometimes attracted controversy.

As ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, according to the Times, Negroponte "oversaw a military buildup that turned much of that country into a springboard and refuge" for the rebels, or Contras, who were battling against the leftist government in neighboring Nicaragua.

According to his McGraw-Hill biography, Negroponte was the officer-in-charge for Vietnam for the National Security Council under Henry Kissinger, from 1971 to 1973; and was deputy director of the NSC under Gen. Colin Powell from 1987 to 1989.

He is said to be close to Powell, the new secretary of state.

Jewish observers are not concerned by Negroponte's lack of expertise in Middle East affairs, noting that his predecessor, Richard Holbrooke, was similarly new to the issue when he went to the United Nations.