YORBA LINDA — Diplomats from 86 nations will attend today's funeral for former President Richard Nixon, joined by a host of government leaders past and present in mourning a man who played a central role in American politics for five decades, officials announced Tuesday.
For some who served under Nixon in an administration that was cut short by Watergate, the solemn occasion at the site of Nixon's birthplace will mark a reunion of sorts.
"I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of old friends," said Robert H. Finch, a former California lieutenant governor who served under Nixon as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. "It'll be a chance to share war stories."
There will be no shortage of luminaries.
President Clinton will be there, along with all four of his living predecessors--Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
Henry Kissinger, Sen. Robert Dole and Gov. Pete Wilson will all deliver eulogies, and a planeload of current and former Administration leaders will descend on Orange County as well. Among the more well-known figures from the Nixon era who are expected to attend: Spiro Agnew, Caspar Weinberger, Alexander M. Haig Jr., George P. Shultz and Patrick Buchanan.
So wide is the political mix among the guests that a White House briefing in Washington on Tuesday quickly turned to speculation about whether Air Force One, which will carry both Nixon's old crew and current Administration officials, will have to be divided.
"The Republicans on the right, Democrats on the left?" one reporter asked jokingly.
"This will be an integrated trip," quipped White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers.
One reporter then wondered aloud whether there would be a seat reserved for "Deep Throat," the source that Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein made famous in "All the President's Men," their book on the Watergate scandal.
Officials at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace have been promising to make public a list of guests since the weekend, but nothing had been released as of late Tuesday.
Instead, names have been trickling out from around the country. In Washington, officials on Tuesday announced the 86 countries that are expected to send representatives--from Angola to Zambia. The European Union and the United Nations will also send representatives.
Among the most prominent foreign diplomats expected to attend are former Prime Minister Edward Heath of Great Britain, former President Chaim Herzog of Israel, and former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa of Japan.
No current heads of state are known to be attending, a reflection, in part, of the fact that the service is being held in Orange County rather than Washington. Nixon made it known before his death that he did not want to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, in a city that he felt had abandoned him during Watergate. That effectively eliminated the chance for foreign dignitaries to combine the trip with diplomatic issues, officials said.
Many of the guests from around the United States and the world began arriving Tuesday.
At the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dana Point, hotel officials said they had five to 10 rooms reserved for government officials who are attending the funeral.
Most of the dignitaries stayed away from the library Tuesday as thousands of people withstood rain and hail for the former President's public viewing.
But Gov. Wilson and his wife, Gayle, made a late-afternoon appearance, leaving a wreath of yellow roses near the casket as they stood in silent prayer for a few moments.
"He was a friend for more than 30 years," said Wilson, who served as an aide to Nixon when the former President ran unsuccessfully for California governor in 1962.
Wilson's potential opponent in November, state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, will also attend.
But it won't be all politicians at the funeral. Orange County fast-food baron Carl N. Karcher, who met Nixon in the 1940s when he was campaigning for a seat in Congress, said he, too, plans to attend today's event.
Karcher recalled Tuesday that Pat and Richard Nixon used to send his family a holiday wreath each year to decorate the front door of their Anaheim home. Last fall, when Karcher was forced out as chairman of the Carl's Jr. restaurant chain, Nixon wrote him a personal letter.
"He wished me success. . . . He was a warm person, a person you could talk to very comfortably," he said.
Karcher said it's fitting for Nixon to be buried at the side of his wife, Pat. "I know that after her burial he wanted to be alone (at the grave site) for a while," Karcher said. "Now he can be with her for eternity."
Who's Coming to Yorba Linda
President Clinton, four former Presidents and dignitaries from 86 countries are among the guests expected to attend Richard Nixon's funeral today. Among the invitees:
* President Bill Clinton
* Former President George Bush
* Former President Jimmy Carter
* Former President Gerald Ford
* Former President Ronald Reagan
NIXON'S ADMINISTRATION MEMBERS
* Spiro Agnew, former Vice President