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Former US Secretary of State Haig Dead at 85

  • Kent Klein

Former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, an adviser to three presidents, has died at the age of 85. General Haig was known for his successful military career, his diplomatic skills, and one controversial comment.

Alexander Haig served a series of Republican presidents as a trusted advisor and an accomplished diplomat, as he rose to the rank of four-star general in the U.S. Army.

As an assistant to national security adviser Henry Kissinger, Haig had a key role in the talks that led to the Paris Peace Agreements on ending the Vietnam War. Haig also helped arrange President Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to China.

Haig served as Mr. Nixon's chief of staff and was said to have a hand in the negotiations leading to the president's resignation in 1974 and to Vice President Gerald Ford assuming the presidency.

Haig returned to the military as commander in chief of U.S. forces in Europe and supreme allied commander of NATO forces. He stepped down during the administration of President Jimmy Carter over the handling of the Iran hostage crisis.

After a short time in private industry, the retired general went back to public service as President Ronald Reagan's secretary of state.

Haig's 17 months as the top U.S. diplomat were marked by his tough stance toward the Soviet Union, and by his battles with other top administration officials.

Professional diplomats praised Haig for his efforts toward a stable relationship with the Soviet Union. He also conducted shuttle diplomacy between the British and Argentine governments, as he tried in vain to prevent a war over the Falkland Islands.

Haig may be best known, however, for a comment he made after the unsuccessful 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan.

Speaking with reporters on national television, hours after the shooting, the secretary of state tried to reassure Americans that the government was functioning.

"Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order. And should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice president, he will do so. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the Vice President and am in close touch with him, and if something came up I would check with him," he said.

Some criticized the remark as an inappropriate attempt by Haig to exceed his authority, with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush flying back to Washington from Texas. Haig later wrote that he had been guilty of a poor choice of words.

In 1988, Haig ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Party nomination for president. The former secretary of state then worked in private business and was active as a speaker on foreign policy issues.

Alexander Haig died Saturday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, of complications from an infection. He leaves behind his wife of 60 years, as well as three children and eight grandchildren.

A statement from U.S. President Barack Obama says Haig exemplified our finest warrior-diplomat tradition.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Haig earned honor on the battlefield, the confidence of presidents and prime ministers, and the thanks of a grateful nation.

And George Shultz, who succeeded Haig as secretary of state, calls him a patriot's patriot.

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