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Paul Nitze, 97; Key Player in U.S. Foreign Policy During Cold War

October 21, 2004|Claudia Luther | Times Staff Writer

Later, when Jimmy Carter was elected president and refused to put Nitze on the arms control team, Nitze led the opposition to the SALT II treaty, which some interpreted as an act of revenge. Nitze maintained that he opposed SALT II because he believed it would have assured "a strategic nuclear capability superior to our own." Nitze, who had formed the Committee on the Present Danger in 1976, the year Carter was elected, traveled coast to coast to denounce SALT II as a threat to U.S. security.

Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, opened the door once again to Nitze's arms control experience. It was in service to Reagan that Nitze took the famed "walk in the woods," fictionalized in Lee Blessing's two-character Broadway play. The episode perhaps best illustrates Nitze's abilities as an arms negotiator as well as the arrogance that at times made him controversial.

It was 1982, and Nitze was the leader of the U.S. delegation to the intermediate-range nuclear forces negotiations in Geneva. Kvitsinsky was his counterpart. Both sides were publicly positioned at a point where no agreement seemed possible. Then the two experienced negotiators, who had become acquainted in earlier meetings, decided to meet informally, away from Geneva.

They took a route through mountain passages to a spot near the town of Saint-Cergue, overlooking Geneva, and left their driver behind to walk along a country road through mountain pastures.

Soon they were engrossed in a "what if?" conversation. Nitze had prepared four "papers," which he pulled out of his pocket one by one. Paper A said in part: "If Moscow is adamant in wishing a one-sided deal ... there is no point."

Kvitsinsky read this and "understood it," Nitze later wrote.

"By now we were sitting side by side on the top of a pile of felled trees on the edge of the logging road," Nitze said. He gave Kvitsinsky papers B and C, which were progressively more detailed. The final memo, Paper D, outlined in 15 points the elements of a possible compromise, including such specifics as "there will be no increase in the present aggregate number of the SS-12/22 and SS-23 missile systems ... ."

The two men argued about some numbers. Then it began to rain, and they ran back to the waiting Mercedes-Benz to finish their discussion before returning to Geneva.

But now on the table for their two countries was a previously almost inconceivable idea: a formula for balancing the numbers of Soviet SS-20 missiles against a similar arsenal of U.S. cruise missiles stationed on the European continent.

"I had that internal glow that comes from having done something truly constructive," Nitze wrote of this meeting.

The glow didn't last long. Both sides eventually rejected the proposal, and Nitze was the brunt of harsh criticism for having exceeded his authority.

Nitze told National Public Radio's Terry Gross in 1989, "I still believe it would have been a very good deal for us, and a very good deal for the Soviets, and a lot of pain and agony would have been avoided if that had been approved by both sides."

By 1983, he was back in the thick of arms talks, including one more walk with Kvitsinsky -- this one dubbed "a walk in the park."

Ironically, Nitze, who had been viewed by President Carter as the intellectual leader of the hawks, was seen by some in the Reagan administration as a dove who was perhaps too enthusiastically bent on treaty-making.

Nitze was also involved in the 1984-85 START (strategic arms reduction talks) negotiations and the 1986 arms summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, during which he stayed up all night with a Soviet counterpart to establish the first numbers and counting rules for strategic arms reduction.

And when Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met in 1987 in Washington to sign the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, Nitze was again on hand to warn, "We must not forget that the devil often lurks in the details."

Public policy wasn't all there was to Nitze. He learned to play the piano as an adult, fascinated especially by Bach. He was an avid tennis player and skier well into his later years. And he was a successful businessman; one particularly successful venture, which he embarked on with his sister, Elizabeth "Pussy" Paepcke, was a substantial investment in an abandoned 19th century mining town in Colorado. The development of Aspen helped make skiing the popular American sport that it has became.

The School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, which he helped found, now bears Nitze's name. In 1985, Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Nitze's first wife died in 1987. Besides his son, William, and three other children from his first marriage, Heidi, Peter and Phyllis Anina, survivors include his second wife, Leezee Porter; 11 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held Saturday at the National Cathedral in Washington.

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