Ambassador Faces Toughest Challenge He Faced Outlaws; Now He Encounters Congress, Public

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OVER THE past three years, Bill Richardson has negotiated successfully with some of the world's most notorious outlaws, from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to Cuban President Fidel Castro and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

But as he takes up his duties this week as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richardson has a job that is tougher still - persuading America's allies, the U.S. Congress and the American public that the United Nations can, should and will be reformed.

"Basically I have to make a transition from dealing with our rogue enemies to dealing with our allies," Richardson said. Richardson presented his credentials Tuesday at the United Nations in New York to Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "Let me state that the United States reaffirms its very strong commitment to the Charter of the United Nations, to the goals of the United Nations - international peace and security, human rights, economic and social development," Richardson said. Drawing On Experience As a Democratic congressman from New Mexico, Richardson, 49, carved out a side career as freelance diplomat, negotiating the release of Americans and others held hostage in some of the most remote and hostile regions of the world, from North Korea to Sudan. In doing so, he drew on his own experience - as a Mexican-American who spent his childhood in Mexico City, earned a degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., and went on to win election seven times from one of the most culturally diverse congressional districts in the country. Richardson suggested that his background would serve him well as he delivers what he calls "the concurrent message: not just reforming the U.N. but selling the U.N. to a very skeptical American public." President Bill Clinton's administration's new budget includes an "advance" appropriation of $921 million toward the payment of arrears on U.S. dues to the United Nations, payable only in 1999 and only on condition that the United Nations has by then moved to streamline its bureaucracy. Richardson concedes that even this conditional package will be a tough sale with the United Nations' critics in Congress, foremost among them Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N. …