WASHINGTON – The only career foreign service officer to rise to the position of secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger was a straightforward diplomat whose exuberant style masked a hard-driving commitment to solving tangled foreign policy problems.
“As good as they come,” recalled his immediate predecessor as America’s top diplomat.
Eagleburger, who died Saturday at age 80, held the job late in George H.W. Bush’s presidency, culminating a distinguished diplomatic career.
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 under President Barack Obama.
Eagleburger died in Charlottesville, Va., after a short illness, according to a family friend, Christy Reap.
Tributes poured in immediately, from Obama and Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and two of Eagleburger’s one-time bosses, Bush and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
Biden said “the post-Cold War world … is more stable and secure” because of Eagleburger’s service.
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. With Baker often abroad, Eagleburger was left to tend to the home front.
Eagleburger said in 1990 that he operated “sort of by osmosis. You get a feel how he (Baker) would react to a situation.”
Born Aug. 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.
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 U.S. 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.”
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