US mourns envoy Richard Holbrooke

2010-12-14 07:31

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Washington - Top US officials mourned the death on Monday of special envoy for Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, credited with saving tens of thousands of lives, but who died before completing his last tough mission.

President Barack Obama paid tribute to the 69-year-old veteran diplomat calling him "a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer, and more respected".

"Tonight, there are millions of people around the world whose lives have been saved and enriched by his work," the US leader, who tapped Holbrooke as his special envoy in 2009, said in a statement.

"He was a truly unique figure who will be remembered for his tireless diplomacy, love of country, and pursuit of peace."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who officially announced that Holbrooke had passed away despite undergoing surgery for a torn aorta after falling ill on Friday, spoke of a "sad day" for her and for the United States.

"Tonight America has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants," Clinton said in an emotional statement.

"Richard Holbrooke served the country he loved for nearly half a century, representing the United States in far-flung war-zones and high-level peace talks, always with distinctive brilliance and unmatched determination."

Holbrooke was best known for forging the 1995 Dayton peace accords which ended the three-year war in Bosnia, but his diplomatic career spanned five decades stretching back to the dark days of the Vietnam war.

Consummate diplomat

"From his early days in Vietnam to his historic role bringing peace to the Balkans to his last mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard helped shape our history, manage our perilous present, and secure our future," Clinton said.

"He was the consummate diplomat, able to stare down dictators and stand up for America's interests and values even under the most difficult circumstances.

"From Southeast Asia to post-Cold War Europe and around the globe, people have a better chance of a peaceful future because of Richard's lifetime of service," she said.

Senator John Kerry, chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said the news of Holbrooke's death was "incomprehensible" as he was a man in a "perpetual state of motion".

"He was always a man on a mission, the toughest mission, and that mission was waging peace through tough as nails, never quit diplomacy - and Richard's life's work saved tens of thousands of lives," Kerry said in a statement.

"Wherever chaos and violence threatened American interests and human lives for nearly a half century, wherever there was a need for courage and insight, Richard Holbrooke showed up for duty," Kerry added.

Vice-President Joe Biden said: "America lost one of its greatest warriors for peace," adding Holbrooke was "the most talented diplomat we've had in a generation".

"Richard Holbrooke was a larger-than-life figure, who through his brilliance, determination and sheer force of will helped bend the curve of history in the direction of progress," Biden said.

Dynamic force

In a twist of fate, Holbrooke died almost 15 years to the day since the signing of the Dayton accords in Paris on December 14 1995.

"In a lifetime of passionate, brilliant service on the front lines of war and peace, freedom and oppression, Richard Holbrooke saved lives, secured peace, and restored hope for countless people around the world," former president Bill Clinton said in a statement.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs committee, called Holbrooke "a dynamic force in American diplomacy for more than five decades. His stellar service is deeply appreciated and held in the highest esteem".

And Jamie Rubin, a former State Department spokesman under president Clinton, told CNN the veteran diplomat had "helped keep a moral compass for American foreign policy".

Read more on:    richard holbrooke  |  barack obama  |  bill clinton  |  hilary clinton  |  us
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