Saturday, December 09, 2006

Former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick dies at 80

Former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick dies at 80
By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jeane Kirkpatrick, a leading player in former President Ronald Reagan's conservative foreign policy as ambassador to the United Nations, has died at the age of 80.

Kirkpatrick died on Thursday of heart failure at her home near Washington, said her son, Stuart Kirkpatrick, on Friday.

A fiery anti-communist crusader, Kirkpatrick was a pioneer of the "neoconservative" movement that advocated an interventionist foreign policy and has strongly influenced policy-making under President Bush.

A longtime Democrat who worked on Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey's presidential campaign in 1968, Kirkpatrick was initially the only non-Republican on Reagan's cabinet-level team and for a time the only woman.

She was the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and only formally became a Republican after resigning her U.N. post in 1985.

Kirkpatrick was an activist at the United Nations, hitting back whenever Washington was attacked. "What takes place in the Security Council more closely resembles a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at problem-solving," she said.

A major architect of U.S. policy in Latin America, she had a reputation for sympathizing with governments that clamped down on leftists.

She was picked for the U.N. post partly due to her Commentary magazine article, "Dictatorships and Double Standards," saying "traditional autocrats" like Nicaragua's Anastasio Somoza were less repressive than many on the left.

Unafraid to take positions at odds with others in the Reagan administration, Kirkpatrick supported Argentina's military government after it invaded the Falklands in 1982, triggering clashes with Secretary of State Alexander Haig over U.S. support for Britain in the war for the islands.

"Jeane had a deep concern for the people south of our border. She knew a lot about them, not simply by study from afar but by personal involvement," said George Schultz, who served under Reagan as secretary of state.

In El Salvador, Sigrido Reyes, a spokesman for the rebel group she opposed, which is now an opposition party said Kirkpatrick was "associated with one of darkest periods of U.S. foreign policy."

"I just hope that God has mercy on her," said Miguel D'Escoto, Nicaragua's foreign minister during the 1980s civil war between the left-wing Sandinista government and U.S.-backed Contra rebels.


Although an advocate for human and civil rights, Kirkpatrick criticized what she considered posturing and once termed the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights "a letter to Santa Claus."

The high point of her political career probably came in August 1984, when her address nominating Reagan for a second term electrified the Republican convention with attacks on critics of Reagan's tough foreign policy.

"They always blame America first. The American people know better," she declared.

When Reagan made her U.N. ambassador in 1981, Kirkpatrick took leave from her job teaching political science at Georgetown University in Washington. She returned to Georgetown after leaving the United Nations and taught there until 2002.

"Her work with students in the university was what she felt personally was her biggest contribution, imparting knowledge, and sharing knowledge," Stuart Kirkpatrick told Reuters.

Born in Duncan, Oklahoma, on November 19, 1926, Kirkpatrick earned a master's degree in political science at New York's Columbia University, where she also obtained a doctorate in 1968 with a thesis on the Argentine dictator Juan Peron.

"She was a great American. She was a great ambassador of the United States here. She never forgot who she was representing," said John Bolton, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations., his eyes filling with tears.

(Additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold and Irwin Arieff at the United Nations, Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington, Ivan Castro in Nicaragua and Alberto Barrera in El Salvador)