By The Associated Press
When he took over as secretary of state in the Clinton administration at age 68, Warren Christopher said he didn’t expect to travel much. He went on to set a four-year mark for miles traveled by America’s top diplomat.
The attorney turned envoy tirelessly traveled to Bosnia and the Middle East on peace missions during his 1993-1997 tenure — including some two dozen to Syria alone in a futile effort to promote a settlement with Israel.
After his work carrying out the Clinton administration agenda abroad was finished, the longtime Californian returned home for an active life in local and national affairs and with his law firm.
Late Friday, the 85-year-old statesman died at his home in Los Angeles of complications from bladder and kidney cancer, said Sonja Steptoe of the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, where Christopher was a senior partner.
As Christopher prepared to step down as secretary in late 1996 “for someone else to pick up the baton,” he said in an interview he was pleased to have played a role in making the United States safer.
Along with his peace efforts, he told The Associated Press that his proudest accomplishments included playing a role in promoting a ban on nuclear weapons tests and extension of curbs on proliferation of weapons technology.
The loyal Democrat also headed Clinton’s vice presidential search committee, recommending Al Gore for the party’s 1992 presidential ticket, and he supervised the contested Florida recount for Gore in the 2000 presidential election. The Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, decided for George W. Bush.
Clinton said Saturday that he was saddened by Christopher’s passing, calling him a public servant who “faithfully and effectively advanced America’s interests and values.”
Clinton praised Christopher’s work in the Middle East peace process and in helping to end the war in Bosnia.
While Christopher’s efforts with Syria didn’t bear fruit, he was more successful in the negotiations that produced a settlement in 1995 for Bosnia, ending a war among Muslims, Serbs and Croats that claimed 260,000 lives and drove another 1.8 million people from their homes.
Christopher also gave top priority to supporting reform in Russia and expanding U.S. economic ties to Asia.
While Christopher often preferred a behind-the-scenes role, he also made news as deputy secretary of state in the Carter administration, conducting the tedious negotiations that gained the release in 1981 of 52 American hostages in Iran.
President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. “The best public servant I ever knew,” Carter wrote in his memoirs.