NEW YORK — A 30-YEAR veteran of the Foreign Service, United States Representative to the United Nations Thomas R. Pickering speaks French, Spanish, Swahili, Arabic, and Hebrew. He is a former US ambassador to Jordan, Nigeria, El Salvador, and Israel. Ask him if El Salvador, where he faced a death threat from right-wing death squads, was his toughest post and you get a diplomatic response: ``No, there are a lot of tough places - I was in Israel....'' The last UN General Assembly he attended was in 1962 as a junior officer writing speeches on nuclear testing. Some of his predecessors in the UN ambassador's job have been flamboyant. But Mr. Pickering, who says he enjoys archaeology, photography, walking, and scuba diving, seems content to project the image of a low-key professional who knows his business. He speaks rapidly. Rarely does he allow a reporter's questions to interrupt the flow.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Bowdoin College and Fulbright Scholar with a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Ambassador Pickering is serving at the UN at a time when Moscow has become an enthusiastic supporter of the world body, when the nonaligned nations have distinctly cooled their anti-Western rhetoric, and when polls show a favorable rating for the UN from the American public for the first time in 14 years. It is a time, he says, when the US can afford to be more positive and less defensive - an ``exciting'' time to be at the United Nations.