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DJ George Shultz, Secretary of State Under Reagan, Dies

· 02/07/2021 12:45
By Michael R. Gordon

George Shultz, a pillar of the Republican foreign-policy establishment whose diplomacy helped seal the end of the Cold War, has died, according to a family statement. He was 100 years old.

Mr. Shultz held four different cabinet posts in the Nixon and Reagan administrations and served for six years as President Reagan's secretary of state, one of the longest such tenures since World War II. He remained an active voice on national security, economic and environmental issues after leaving government, sometimes taking positions challenging the Trump administration.

A man of strong convictions who nevertheless rarely lost control of his emotions, Mr. Shultz played a pivotal role in encouraging Mr. Reagan to pursue a dialogue with the Soviet Union's leaders despite strong opposition from the Pentagon and, at times, the president's own national-security adviser.

"I always thought of Shultz as a stabilizer," said John Lewis Gaddis, the Yale University professor and Cold War historian. "If you think of great ships going across the ocean, the captain sets the course, but somebody has to keep it on course."

Born in New York, Mr. Shultz initially made his mark as an economist. After graduating from Princeton University, he earned a Ph.D. in industrial economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for nearly a decade. He later served as dean of the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business and as a fellow at Stanford University before President Nixon picked him in 1969 to serve as secretary of labor.

A year later, Mr. Shultz became the first director of the newly established Office of Management and Budge, which is part of the president's executive office. In 1972, he was named Treasury secretary before leaving two years later to become the president and director of the Bechtel Group Inc.

Mr. Shultz strengthened his relationship with Mr. Reagan when the California governor invited him to lunch in 1974 and peppered him with questions on federal budget issues, an encounter that persuaded him Mr. Reagan was determined to run for the presidency.

"I got a grilling on how the federal government works and how to put a budget together. They were all operational questions," Mr. Shultz said in a 2019 interview with The Wall Street Journal.

When Mr. Reagan asked Mr. Shultz to join his cabinet, however, it was in a different role. Mr. Shultz was in London in 1982 on business when he was asked to go to the U.S. Embassy to take a call from the president on a secure line: Al Haig had just resigned as secretary of state and Mr. Reagan wanted Mr. Shultz to take the post.

The Reagan administration in those years was the scene of fierce struggles over policy toward Moscow between a forward-leaning State Department that was interested in engaging the Russians on arms control and a hard-line Pentagon led by Caspar Weinberger, which was focused first and foremost on building up U.S. military might.

Mr. Shultz got an early taste of the infighting when he learned that bureaucratic rivals were consulting with Mr. Reagan about policy issues behind his back and informed the president he was prepared to quit if his counsel weren't considered. Mr. Reagan responded by organizing two private meetings with Mr. Shultz a week and making a point of putting them on his public calendar, Mr. Shultz recalled.

"Shultz essentially enabled Reagan to break free of the coterie of conservative national security advisers that surrounded him," said Philip Taubman, a consulting professor at Stanford University, who has access to Mr. Shultz's personal papers and is preparing a biography of the former secretary of state.

A moment of opportunity in the interagency struggles came in February 1983. A Washington blizzard prevented Mr. Reagan and his wife Nancy from going to Camp David for the weekend, and they invited Mr. Shultz and his wife for a small dinner at the White House. Mr. Shultz used the evening to encourage the president to hold his first meeting with a Soviet official. Later that month, Mr. Shultz escorted Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to the White House despite opposition from William Clark, Mr. Reagan's national security adviser, recalled Thomas Simons, a retired U.S. ambassador who also served as a deputy assistant secretary of state for Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Mikhail Gorbachev's rise to power in 1985 provided a historic opportunity to improve U.S.-Soviet relations, which Mr. Shultz used by prodding Soviet leaders to open up their society. Charles Hill, Mr. Shultz's executive assistant, was given the responsibility for drafting arguments on a single sheet of a yellow legal pad during the secretary's long flights to Moscow and other European venues that he could draw on in meetings with his Soviet counterparts. "They weren't anticommunist," recalled Mr. Hill, now a diplomat in residence at Yale University. "He would point out that there was an electronic information revolution going on, and we can handle it but that your system can't succeed if you block information."

The Reagan administration's strategy of building up its nuclear forces while engaging in talks eventually led to the 1987 treaty (known as the INF treaty)prohibiting U.S. and Russia intermediate-range missiles based on land. The accord, which was signed by Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev, banned an entire class of weapons systems, but was disowned by the Trump administration in 2019 after the U.S. accused the Russians of cheating.

Friction between the two nations lingered after the 1987 treaty, however, over the Reagan administration's plans for antimissile defenses and regional issues. Still, Mr. Shultz's one-on-one diplomacy yielded a measure of trust, which was evident when Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze gave Mr. Shultz advance notice that the Kremlin had decided to remove its troops from Afghanistan. "I told Reagan, and that is the only person I told, and we actually did work together to find a way to make it a little easier for everybody," Mr. Shultz recalled.

Mr. Shultz, who served in the Marine Corps in World War II, advocated the use of limited force to back up diplomacy, and supported the 1984 airstrikes in Libya. A dark period for Mr. Shultz came when he and Mr. Weinberger opposed the delivery of TOW missiles to Iran in return for the release of U.S. hostages. The plan was approved nonetheless by Mr. Reagan, and the proceeds of the sale were used to secretly fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua, even though funding had been prohibited by Congress. The episode became known as the Iran-Contra scandal and severely weakened the Reagan administration.

After leaving government, Mr. Shultz returned to Stanford University and became a fellow at the Hoover Institution.

He recently faulted President Trump's strategy for pursuing a trade agreement with China, urged the Trump administration not to withdraw from the INF treaty and to redouble its efforts on nuclear-arms control and stressed the importance of addressing climate change, including by imposing a carbon tax.

"On China, they do some things that I think are generally objectionable for everybody," Mr. Shultz told the Journal, referring to allegations that Beijing has stolen intellectual property and engaged in unfair trade practices. "And I think a broad coalition could be developed to make that point to the Chinese. It would probably be more effective than this tit-for-tat tariff business. The president says that he is a tariff man. That's like saying, 'I am a tax man,' because a tariff is a tax."

Looking back on his career, Mr. Shultz said some of his most rewarding efforts were those that he believed affected the lives of ordinary people. As secretary, he repeatedly urged Soviet officials to allow their Jewish citizens to emigrate immigrate freely. To reinforce the point, he attended a Seder in Moscow in 1987 and provided Mr. Shevardnadze with a list of "refuseniks" -- Jews who had been denied permission to emigrate.

In October of that year, he recalled, he was told to expect a call from Jerusalem. "This is Ida Nudel. I'm in Jerusalem," the voice on the line said. She had attended that Seder, and her name had been on Mr. Shultz's list. The call, Mr. Shultz said, was one of the most moving moments in his long tenure as secretary of state.

Write to Michael R. Gordon at michael.gordon@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 07, 2021 12:45 ET (17:45 GMT)

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