US diplomat Eagleburger dies at 80
With 27 years in the foreign service, hard-working state department veteran made his mark from Germany to Middle East.
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2011 16:48
The career diplomat was at the state department during pivotal days at the end of the Cold War [EPA]

Lawrence Eagleburger, the only career US foreign service officer to rise to the position of secretary of state, died on Saturday.

Eagleburger, 80, passed away in Charlottesville, Virginia, after a short illness, according to a family friend.

Two of his one-time bosses, former President George HW Bush and former secretary of state James A Baker III, mourned the retired diplomat and praised his service.

"As good as they come" was Baker's description.

Over 27 years in the foreign service, he served in the Nixon administration as executive assistant to secretary of state Henry A Kissinger, as President Jimmy Carter's ambassador to Yugoslavia, and as an assistant secretary of state and then undersecretary of state in the first Reagan administration.

In subsequent years, he was available to offer advice, along with other former senior officials, to Hillary Rodham Clinton as she prepared for the job of secretary of state.

Hard worker

A straightforward diplomat whose exuberant style masked a hard-driving commitment to solving tangled foreign policy problems, Eagleburger held the top post at the state department for five months when Baker resigned in the summer of 1992 to help Bush in an unsuccessful bid for re-election.

As Baker's deputy, Eagleburger had taken on a variety of difficult assignments, including running the department bureaucracy.

Baker often was abroad, working on Middle East problems, German reunification and the fallout from the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaving Eagleburger to tend to the home front.

Eagleburger told the AP news agency in 1990 that he operated "sort of by osmosis. You get a feel how he (Baker) would react to a situation."

He was hugely overweight and chain-smoked cigarettes, sometimes with an aspirator to ease chronic asthma. Eagleburger was also afflicted with a muscle disease.

Born August 1, 1930, in Milwaukee, Eagleburger graduated from the University of Wisconsin.

He grew up in a Republican family, once telling a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal that "my father was somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan".

Eagleburger remained a Republican, but of a more moderate stripe.

'Consummate diplomat'

Bush called Eagleburger "one of the most capable and respected diplomats our foreign service ever produced, and I will be ever grateful for his wise, no-nonsense counsel during those four years of historic change in our world."

In a statement, Bush said that "during one of the tensest moments of the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein began attacking Israel with Scud missiles trying cynically and cruelly to bait them into the conflict, we sent Larry to Israel to preserve our coalition. It was an inordinately complex and sensitive task, and his performance was nothing short of heroic."

Baker said Eagleburger "was a legend in the US Foreign Service, a consummate professional who served his country expertly and with great dignity as a selfless diplomat."

He said his former colleague was "superb at divining trouble and heading it off. That's why he became the first
Foreign Service officer in history to rise to deputy secretary of state and later to secretary of state. Simply stated, Larry Eagleburger was as good as they come - loyal, hard-working and intelligent, a trifecta for an American diplomat."

In what may have been his last public appearance, a clearly frail Eagleburger regaled a crowd of state department officials last month, including Secretary of State Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with stories about his early days in the foreign service during the Kennedy administration.

It came May 18 at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the state department's operations center, the department's 24-hour, seven-day-a-week nerve center.

Eagleburger had many in the audience rolling with laughter as he recalled manic confusion among Kennedy's national security advisers during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba that led then-secretary of state Dean
Rusk to order the creation of a round-the-clock clearing house for information coming in from around the world.

"Larry believed in the strength of America's values, and he fought for them around the world,'' Clinton said Saturday. "He was outspoken, but always the consummate diplomat. Even in retirement, Larry remained a staunch advocate for the causes he believed in. He never stopped caring, contributing, and speaking out.''

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