Secretary of State John Kerry is consulting Henry Kissinger, the 90-year-old embodiment of Cold War foreign policy, before heading off to negotiate with his Russian counterpart over Syria’s chemical weapons.
After meeting today with former Secretary Kissinger at the State Department, Kerry will bring other U.S.-Russia specialists on his plane when he flies to Geneva for two days of meetings starting tomorrow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to comment.
Kerry and Lavrov will seek common ground on Syria turning over its chemical weapons to international control to avoid a U.S. military strike intended to punish what the Obama administration says was President Bashar al-Assad’s gassing of 1,400 Syrians, including 400 children, on Aug. 21. Russia seized on a passing remark by Kerry about a weapons turnover in proposing just that.
Though the meeting with Kissinger was planned before the latest developments in Syria, Kerry was eager to draw on the older man’s experience in communicating effectively with Russian diplomats, the U.S. official said. Kissinger pioneered the policy of détente with the Soviet Union and served as secretary of State and national security adviser to Republican President Richard Nixon. The U.S. official described Kerry as a fan of Kissinger’s 1994 book, “Diplomacy.”
Kerry consulted all the living former secretaries of State before taking office and checks back with them regularly, including twice in the last two days with Madeleine Albright, who held the post under Democratic President Bill Clinton, the official said.
U.S. officials -- and the companies that pay Kissinger Associates Inc., the consulting firm he founded -- aren’t alone in tapping Kissinger’s thoughts on great-power politics.
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Early last year, Kissinger met in Moscow to discuss world affairs with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whose press secretary described the men as “old friends” and said that they had previously met eight to 10 times, including over dinner at Kissinger’s home in New York.
Putin values everyone’s point of view, “especially such a wise man as Henry Kissinger,” Dmitri S. Peskov told the New York Times in January 2012.
In Putin’s book “First Person,” he recounted a conversation with Kissinger in the early 1990s when Putin, then an aide to the mayor of St. Petersburg, picked up the German- born American diplomat at the airport.
Kissinger impressed Putin by saying that he too got his start as an intelligence specialist, and that former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew his nation’s forces from Eastern Europe too quickly.
“I told him what I thought and I will repeat it now: Kissinger was right,” Putin wrote.
This morning, Kerry addressed a meeting of his bipartisan 25-member Foreign Affairs Policy Board and tonight will host a dinner for the group before boarding his plane. The chairman of the advisory board, created by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011, is Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of State under Clinton and a U.S.-Russia and arms control specialist.
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