When he took over as secretary of state in the Clinton administration at age 68, Warren M. 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 1993-1996 tenure — including some two dozen to Syria alone in a futile effort to promote a settlement with Israel.
After his work finished carrying out the Clinton administration agenda abroad, 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.
President Barack Obama said Saturday that he mourned the passing of a man who proved to be a “resolute pursuer of peace” and dedicated public servant.
“Warren Christopher was a skillful diplomat, a steadfast public servant, and a faithful American,” the president said in a statement.
As Christopher prepared to step down in 1996 as secretary “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 supervised the contested Florida recount for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. The Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, decided for George W. Bush.
While his 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.
Some critics said the administration had moved too slowly against the ethnic violence. Then-Rep. Frank McCloskey, an Indiana Democrat, called for Christopher’s resignation and virtually accused the administration of ignoring genocide against Bosnian Muslims. A handful of State Department officials resigned in protest.
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.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday that she was saddened by the passing of a friend and a man who was one of the “giants who came before her.”