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Henry Kissinger, American diplomat and Nobel winner, dead at 100

Yoopya with Reuters

Henry Kissinger, a diplomatic powerhouse whose roles as a national security adviser and secretary of state under two presidents left an indelible mark on U.S. foreign policy and earned him a controversial Nobel Peace Prize, died on Wednesday at age 100.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speaks at the International Economic Forum of the Americas/Conference of Montreal in 2008. REUTERS/Shaun Bes
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speaks at the International Economic Forum of the Americas/Conference of Montreal in 2008. REUTERS/Shaun Best

Kissinger died at his home in Connecticut, according to a statement from his geopolitical consulting firm, Kissinger Associates Inc. No mention was made of the circumstances.

It said he would be interred at a private family service, to be followed at a later date by a public memorial service in New York City.

Kissinger had been active late in life, attending meetings in the White House, publishing a book on leadership styles, and testifying before a Senate committee about the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. In July 2023 he made a surprise visit to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

During the 1970s in the midst of the Cold War, he had a hand in many of the epoch-changing global events of the decade while serving as national security adviser and secretary of state under Republican President Richard Nixon.

The German-born Jewish refugee’s efforts led to the U.S. diplomatic opening with China, landmark U.S.-Soviet arms control talks, expanded ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam.

Kissinger’s reign as the prime architect of U.S. foreign policy waned with Nixon’s resignation in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal. Still, he continued to be a diplomatic force as secretary of state under Nixon’s successor, President Gerald Ford, and to offer strong opinions throughout the rest of his life.

While many hailed Kissinger for his brilliance and broad experience, others branded him a war criminal for his support for anti-communist dictatorships, especially in Latin America. In his latter years, his travels were circumscribed by efforts by other nations to arrest or question him about past U.S. foreign policy.

His 1973 Peace Prize was awarded for ending American involvement in the Vietnam War but it was one of the most controversial ever. Two members of the Nobel committee resigned over the selection as questions arose about the secret U.S. bombing of Cambodia. North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho was selected to jointly receive the award but declined it.

Ford called Kissinger a “super secretary of state” but also noted his prickliness and self-assurance, which critics were more likely to call paranoia and egotism. Even Ford said, “Henry in his mind never made a mistake.”

“He had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew,” Ford said in an interview shortly before his death in 2006.

With his dour expression and gravelly, German-accented voice, Kissinger possessed an image of both a stuffy academic and a ladies’ man, squiring starlets around Washington and New York in his bachelor days. Power, he said, was the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Voluble on policy, Kissinger was reticent on personal matters, although he once told a journalist he saw himself as a cowboy hero, riding off alone.

HARVARD FACULTY

Heinz Alfred Kissinger was born in Furth, Germany, on May 27, 1923, and moved to the United States with his family in 1938 before the Nazi campaign to exterminate European Jewry.

Anglicizing his name to Henry, Kissinger became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1943, served in the Army in Europe in World War Two, and attended Harvard University on a scholarship, earning a master’s degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1954. He was on Harvard’s faculty for the next 17 years.

During much of that time, Kissinger served as a consultant to government agencies, including in 1967 when he acted as an intermediary for the State Department in Vietnam. He used his connections with President Lyndon Johnson’s administration to pass on information about peace negotiations to the Nixon camp.

When Nixon’s pledge to end the Vietnam War helped him win the 1968 presidential election, he brought Kissinger to the White House as national security adviser.

But the process of “Vietnamization” – shifting the burden of the war from the 500,000-troop U.S. forces to the South Vietnamese – was long and bloody, punctuated by massive U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, the mining of the North’s harbors, and the bombing of Cambodia.

Kissinger declared in 1972 that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam but the Paris Peace Accords reached in January 1973 were little more than a prelude to the final Communist takeover of the South two years later.

In 1973, in addition to his role as national security adviser, Kissinger was named secretary of state – giving him unchallenged authority in foreign affairs.

An intensifying Arab-Israeli conflict launched Kissinger on his first so-called “shuttle” mission, a brand of highly personal, high-pressure diplomacy for which he became famous.

Thirty-two days spent shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus helped Kissinger forge a long-lasting disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In an effort to diminish Soviet influence, Kissinger reached out to its chief communist rival, China, and made two trips there, including a secret one to meet with Premier Zhou Enlai. The result was Nixon’s historic summit in Beijing with Chairman Mao Zedong and the eventual formalization of relations between the two countries.

Former U.S. ambassador to China Winston Lord, who served as Kissinger’s special assistant, saluted his former boss as a “tireless advocate for peace,” telling Reuters, “America has lost a towering champion for the national interest.”

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Henry Kissinger, American diplomat and Nobel winner, dead at 100