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Kissinger Returns to Nixonland

Yorba Linda: Promoting his new book, the former secretary of state speaks to a friendly crowd on friendly ground, the Nixon Library & Birthplace.

July 19, 2001|JERRY HICKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Promoting a new book on TV's "The Tonight Show" Tuesday, Henry Kissinger was sandwiched between rapper Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs and rocker Uncle Kracker. The closest host Jay Leno came to delving into foreign policy with the former secretary of State was to ask him whether Chinese food was better in China than New York City.

But Wednesday, Kissinger's book tour took him to more familiar, and more admiring, territory--the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda. Kissinger has been there many times, promoting previous books or attending the Pat and Richard Nixon funerals and a prisoner-of-war reunion. The POWs revered Kissinger as the Nixon Cabinet member who helped bring them home.

It was Kissinger country Wednesday, and the 78-year-old statesman reveled in it, signing copies of his book--"Does America Need a Foreign Policy?"--at two sessions and speaking for nearly an hour on world politics.

Many listeners were either members of the Nixon Library ($35 minimum annual fee), the library's President's Council ($1,000) or its President's Cabinet ($5,000). Some of the county's Republican elite attended too, such as Carl N. Karcher, the restaurant chain founder; George Argyros, President Bush's designate as ambassador to Spain, and former Gov. Pete Wilson.

With the library's 300-seat theater filled, the overflow crowd watched by video in the foyer and received their own short hello from Kissinger.

"I have no need for further recognition. But this is what I do," Kissinger said later in a private interview. "I've been lucky to practice a profession that's also been my hobby. As long as I'm healthy, I will write, speak, try to contribute what I can."

To his audience, his themes were a capsule of his book: that American foreign policy must be handled differently from Europe to Asia to the Middle East; that America needs a continuing foreign policy, not one that's constant trouble-shooting, which is how he saw President Clinton's; that the world needs to know America intends to be a player.

"Russia and China need to understand that they have more to gain in good relations with the U.S. than with each other," Kissinger said.

Asked from the audience about the Olympics going to China in 2008, Kissinger, an honorary member of the International Olympic Committee, said he approved. "Its human rights policy leaves a lot to be desired, but those who have visited China, as I have, have seen much improvement. A spirit of cooperation, not confrontation, will more likely contribute to the evolution of China."

Kissinger repeatedly mentioned his admiration for Richard Nixon as a foreign policy thinker--he made no mention about Nixon's fall from grace--and brought chuckles when he talked about first meeting the president.

"When he offered me a job, I was dubious," Kissinger said, since he'd been a close associate of Nixon nemesis Nelson Rockefeller. "But Rockefeller told me that Nixon was taking a lot bigger chance on me than I was on him."

About that Jay Leno appearance, Kissinger said he actually had a good time. It wasn't without rewards. Puff Daddy presented Kissinger with a pair of men's boxers he's marketing. Red with black stripes.

"I'll have to show them to my wife before I wear them," Kissinger said. "They're not really my style."

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