Henry Kissinger warns President Obama's reputation will largely be determined by Syria outcome

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Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Photo: Daniel Karmann/DPA/Press Association Images

The “Godfather” of US/Russian relations is a formidable and controversial character, yet one with undeniable stature and diplomatic prowess.

At 90 years of age, his advice is respected as much now in the corridors of power as it was during the early 1970s, but does he believe those tensions can thaw and Russia and America align themselves once again?

It will be “extremely difficult” was the short response, “but if they can it will be beneficial to all. Russia will gain prestige, Obama will be vindicated and Assad will be removed, and that would be the best possible outcome.”

He believes President Obama’s reputation will largely be determined by what the end result is.

From a US perspective it is “imperative that a deadline is put on negotiations” because “we cannot afford to be in a position where this drags on indefinitely, and the chemical weapons remain. That would be a humiliating outcome.”

Furthermore, he has “sympathy” with the standard viewpoint – as he called it - that America is always “throwing its weight around", but he asked Europeans to consider what the world would be like without America?

“It’s true", he said, “we have attempted many things that have failed, but in the end it was better for the world that there were people that would attempt them", and “America did them believing that they were always helping", he continued.

As a man who did not support Obama nor military strikes and wouldn't have advised talk of a “red line", he now understands the President’s standpoint that chemical weapons are not just a Syrian problem but one of “global significance".

Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes US President Barack Obama to the G20 summit. Credit: Kay Nietfeld/DPA/Press Association Images

So - to Russia - and Vladimir Putin’s article in Thursday’s New York Times with a direct plea to the American people for caution.

Syria’s ally adopted a script that gave a reasoned argument, advocated the importance of international laws, and standing by them, yet warned of a “new wave of terror", and talked of a “growing trust” between himself and President Obama but took umbrage at “American exceptionalism", preferring to reaffirm that “God made us all equal".

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with former President Richard Nixon. Credit: Rauchwetter/DPA/Press Association Images

Dr Kissinger had read it too. His response was simple, yet informed. He speaks to Putin regularly.

“Russia can have no interest in radicalising the Middle East. And they need us as a partner."

We moved on. I asked him how much he thought Obama asking for authorisation for military strikes on Syria, from Congress, was influenced by the decision taken by British Parliament, and David Cameron’s actions.

He answered honestly, “I have no idea", but he believes that balancing the “special relationship” between Britain and the US was what a succession of British leaders has tried to do since Winston Churchill uttered the expression, so “in those terms, David Cameron has acted in the best tradition".

Sir David Frost strove to outwit President Nixon when he was US President. Credit: Ian West/PA Wire

And in an interview with the man who was Secretary of State for President Richard Nixon I could not, not ask about the late David Frost.

He was a journalist who strove to outwit the then President during interviews where both men tried to unnerve and unravel the other.

How profound an impact did Frost have on Nixon, did Kissinger think? With a smile, and a defiant intake of breath he said:

I knew David Frost, and I enjoyed David Frost but the myth that David Frost manoeuvred Richard Nixon into a situation in which Richard Nixon did something that he would not otherwise have done, no person who knew Nixon would ever take that seriously.

Frost once talked about Nixon’s “cascade of candor,” well, there was Kissinger’s.