Henry Kissinger dead at 100: The 20th century's most influential diplomat

Henry Kissinger was one of the most controversial and prominent figures in US foreign policy. ITV News Correspondent Robert Moore reports

Henry Kissinger, the most influential diplomat of the 20th century, is dead at the age of 100.

In his prime, in the late 1960s and early 1970s and under the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Kissinger was a giant and charismatic figure in global diplomacy.

He was the ultra-realist who was relentless in the pursuit of America's interests. But he was also something else: enormously controversial and polarising.

The debate rages to this day and will last long after today's announcement of his death: Was Kissinger the great diplomatic grandmaster, brilliantly using every piece on the global chess board, to ensure American pre-eminence?

Or was he a Machiavellian figure who thought little of the human collateral damage that flowed from a deeply cynical foreign policy?

To many on the left, he was a menacing figure - too clever by half - a ruthless operator who gave intellectual justification for the vast and indiscriminate American bombing campaigns of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

He had one undisputed achievement - so monumental in consequence that it will surely be his enduring legacy.  

His secret diplomacy bridged the gulf between Communist China and America.

He opened the door to the normalisation of relations between Washington and Beijing, paving the way for Nixon's historic visit in 1972.

However strained relations may currently be, Kissinger helped bring China in from the cold, and profoundly changed the world we live in today.

In the tumultuous decade of the 1970s, Kissinger was everywhere - a man who personified "shuttle diplomacy."

He was a major player in the Vietnam war, numerous Middle East conflicts, and in the containment of Soviet Russia.

Notably, he helped negotiate the end of the Vietnam War, for which he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

His critics have argued that his role in the conflict deserved to see him in the dock, not acclaimed for his peace-making skills.

He survived the great scandal of Watergate, serving as the US Secretary of State to two presidents.

Then-Prince of Wales talks with Dr Henry Kissinger during the Britain In The World conference in London, on March 29 1995. Credit: PA

He was a celebrity in the rarified world of global diplomacy and he relished the limelight.

Despite his often-chaotic and ruffled appearance - he had been a professor at Harvard - Kissinger was at the centre of the Washington cocktail party circuit, often arriving with a fashion model on his arm.

And for decades after he left office, he became the gravelly-voiced doyen of American foreign policy, dispensing advice to all who came to pay their respects.

Kissinger was a preeminent scholar of foreign policy, a prolific author, and a figure whose advice was avidly sought by 12 successive American presidents and dozens of world leaders.

His life's trajectory was truly remarkable: a Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany as a little boy to become the most significant architect of foreign policy in the past century.

But his legacy is deeply complicated. As complicated, it might be said, as the world he helped forge, and now leaves behind.

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