Vietnam experience moved Negroponte

June 18, 1995|By Ginger Thompson and Gary Cohn | Ginger Thompson and Gary Cohn,Sun Staff Correspondents

John Dimitri Negroponte was only 42 when he arrived as U.S. ambassador to Honduras in November 1981, but he already was a 21-year veteran of the foreign service with experience in difficult assignments.

With postings that included Vietnam, Greece, the National Security Council and two assignments as a deputy assistant secretary of state, Negroponte seemed perfectly suited to the task: to execute in Honduras the crucial part of a broad vision for defeating Communist advances in Central America.

Scion of a patrician Greek family, Negroponte was born in England in 1939 and emigrated to the United States. He was educated at Exeter, an elite New Hampshire boys' prep school, and at Yale before joining the foreign service at age 21. He speaks Spanish, French, Greek and Vietnamese.

In 1976, while U.S. consul general in Salonika, Greece, he married Diana Villiers, the daughter of Sir Charles Villiers, a former head of the British Steel Corp., and a Belgian aristocrate, the former Maria Jose de la Barre d'Erquelinnes.

It was during his Vietnam experience that signs of Negroponte's hard-line views became evident. After serving as a political officer in the Saigon embassy, he was an aide to then-National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger during the Paris peace talks.

He fell out of favor with Kissinger after arguing that the chief U.S. negotiator was making too many concessions to the North Vietnamese in order to get U.S. forces out of Vietnam.

A decade later, Negroponte was determined not to concede Central America to the Communists.

"I believe we must do our best not to allow the tragic outcome of Indochina to be repeated in Central America," Negroponte told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the process of his confirmation as ambassador to Honduras in 1981.

The Negropontes had a high profile in Honduras, he pressing the program and defending it at every turn; she involved in social programs, such as helping to provide food and clothing for refugees and to improve literacy rates. They have five adopted ++ children, all Honduran-born.

"I have a lot of admiration for him," said Thomas O. Enders, who as assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs from 1981 to 1983, was Negroponte's boss.

Another colleague from Central America, has a less positive view.

"The whole process of using Honduras for cheap political purposes is a dirty page in our history, and Negroponte played a major role in the damn thing," said Lawrence A. Pezzullo, whose service as ambassador to Nicaragua from 1979 to 1981 bridged the Carter and Reagan administrations.

After leaving Honduras, Negroponte returned to Washington where he seved in high-level positions in the Regan and Bush administrations. He was ambassador to Mexico from 1989 to 1993, at a time when passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement had become a paramount issue. President Clinton appointed Negroponte ambassador to the, Philippines in 1993.

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