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World Leaders, Officials Honor Late US Diplomat Holbrooke

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton walks past a portrait of the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Friday, Jan. 14, 2011, at the State Department in Washington.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton walks past a portrait of the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Friday, Jan. 14, 2011, at the State Department in Washington.
Kent Klein

President Barack Obama has eulogized U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke as a clear-eyed realist whose legacy of peace reaches around the world. World leaders and U.S. officials crowded the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Friday to pay tribute to the late ambassador.

President Obama says Richard Holbrooke was an extraordinary diplomat, who served his country until his final moments. "Speaking truth to power from the Mekong Delta to the Paris Peace Talks, paving the way to our normalization of relations with China, serving as ambassador in a newly-unified Germany, bringing peace to the Balkans, strengthening our relationship with the United Nations, and working to advance peace and progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.

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Holbrooke collapsed while meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department on December 11. He died two days later at the age of 69.

Holbrooke’s greatest success came in 1995, when he persuaded the two sides in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s bloody ethnic conflict to accept the terms of the Dayton Peace Accords.

At Friday’s memorial, Mr. Obama said Holbrooke’s hard-headed, clear-eyed realism about how the world works was a driving force behind the Bosnia accord. "And that coupling of realism and idealism, which has always represented what is best in American foreign policy, that was at the heart of his work in Bosnia, where he negotiated and cajoled and threatened, all at once, until peace was the only outcome possible," he said.

Richard Holbrooke began his career in the early 1960’s as a civilian representative for the Agency for International Development in South Vietnam.  He joined the State Department and worked for the U.S. ambassadors in Saigon.  And before the age of 30, Holbrooke was part of the American delegation to the Paris Peace Talks.

Holbrooke later led the Peace Corps in Morocco, advised presidential candidate Jimmy Carter in his 1976 campaign, and worked as an executive at a Wall Street investment firm.

He also served as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany and to the United Nations, and finally as President Obama’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The president said Friday Holbrooke created a lasting impact on American diplomacy and everyone affected by it. "His legacy is seen in the children of Bosnia who lived to raise families of their own, in a Europe that is peaceful and united and free.  And young boys and girls from the tribal regions of Pakistan, to whom he pledged our country’s friendship.  And in the role that America continues to play as a light to all who aspire to live in freedom and in dignity," he said.

In his eulogy, Mr. Obama announced the creation of an annual award named for Holbrooke, to honor excellence in U.S. diplomacy.  

Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were among others who spoke at the memorial.

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