Lawrence Eagleburger dies in Virginia at 80

Former secretary of state under George H.W. Bush chaired International Commission of Holocaust Era claims.

June 5, 2011 03:37
3 minute read.
Lawrence Eagleburger

lawrence eagleburger 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Former US secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger, who served under George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s, died on Saturday at the age of 80, a spokeswoman for his family said.

He died in Charlottesville, Va., after a short illness, the spokeswoman said.

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Eagleburger headed the State Department from August 1992 to January 1993, capping a diplomatic career that spanned eight presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike. Later in the ‘90s, he chaired the International Commission of Holocaust Era claims.

Bobby Brown, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s former adviser on Jewish diaspora affairs, worked closely with Eagleburger on Holocaust reparations since the ‘90s.

Brown said when he asked Eagleburger from where his love for the Jewish people came, he said that as he learned more about America’s actions during the Holocaust, he had felt a great responsibility toward Israel.

“He felt he owed, on behalf of the United States, kindness and a good relationship to Israel to make up for what America didn’t do during the Holocaust,” Brown told The Jerusalem Post.

Eagleburger was also instrumental in efforts to free Soviet Jewry and support Ethiopian Jews in coming to Israel.

US President Barack Obama in a statement said Eagleburger had “helped our nation navigate the pivotal days during the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War” when he led the State Department.

Eagleburger entered the foreign service in 1957, but his career took off when he became an assistant to president Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, in 1969.

A self-described moderate Republican, Eagleburger was widely regarded as a tough pragmatist in foreign affairs.

After Republicans lost the White House to Jimmy Carter in 1976, Eagleburger was asked to stay on and served as ambassador to Yugoslavia in the Democratic administration.

He also served in the State Department during the Reagan administration, leaving in 1984 to become president of Kissinger Associates, a consulting firm founded by Kissinger.

Bush brought him back to government in 1989 as deputy secretary of state, the No. 2 job, even though he had not been a member of Bush’s inner circle of advisers headed by Secretary of State James Baker.

On Saturday, Bush praised the role Eagleburger played during the first Gulf War.

“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,” Bush said in a statement. “It was an inordinately complex and sensitive task, and his performance was nothing short of heroic.”

Eagleburger became acting secretary when Baker left to run Bush’s reelection campaign in August 1992 and was sworn in officially on December 8, 1992 for the last month-and-a-half of Bush’s presidential term.

In 2006 Eagleburger was a late addition to the Iraq Study Group headed by Baker and former Democratic representative Lee Hamilton that presented a report on the Iraq war to president George W. Bush.

An avuncular, cane-carrying figure who suffered from chronic asthma and a muscle disorder, Eagleburger was a heavy smoker known for being crusty, charming and wisecracking.

He named each of his three sons Lawrence – but all with different middle names. Asked to explain that move he reportedly said: “First of all, it was ego. And secondly, I wanted to screw up the Social Security system.”

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