U.S. diplomat Negroponte says he will retire June 1 In early '80s, he worked in anti-Communist effort in Central America

April 19, 1997|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- John D. Negroponte, a high-ranking American diplomat who was a key figure for President Ronald Reagan's anti-Communist crusade in Central America, plans to retire June 1, he disclosed yesterday.

His decision to retire came as a surprise. Earlier this week, he was reported to be in line for an important ambassadorship.

He said his decision was based on his need to pay for the education of his five children, ages 4 to 15, all of whom were adopted in Honduras.

"I've made the decision that the time has come, after 36 years, to devote my energies to other pursuits," he said.

But having made his decision only this week, he said, he has no definite job plans.

Negroponte, 57, was ambassador to Honduras during the early 1980s when that Central American nation served as a springboard for a U.S.-led effort to topple the leftist Sandinista regime in neighboring Nicaragua.

Since then, severe human rights abuses by the Honduran

military have been documented. Articles published by The Sun in 1995 reported close ties during the 1980s between the Central Intelligence Agency and a Honduran military battalion that employed kidnapping, torture and murder against suspected guerrillas.

Negroponte has said he worked diligently behind the scenes to prevent such abuses, intervening personally to obtain the release of a young woman tortured as a suspected subversive.

But the State Department's human rights reports for the period, to which the embassy contributed, omitted or glossed over the worst human rights problems in Honduras.

Negroponte also served as ambassador to Mexico and the Philippines, as an assistant secretary of state and on the White House National Security Council staff.

He was reported this week to have been in line for another ambassadorship.

But in a telephone interview last night from his Washington home, he said: "The truth of the matter is that I plan to retire and will be retiring on June 1."

Asked if he thought the reporting on Honduras had clouded his prospects of being confirmed by the Senate, he replied, "Not in the slightest. I have a number of friends in the Senate on both sides of the aisle who encouraged me to stay and, had I stayed on, would have been extremely supportive."

Other officials said Negroponte had been cleared for another ambassadorship by the State Department but was still awaiting a decision by the White House.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns commended Negroponte last night.

"I think John Negroponte is a distinguished American diplomat who has served our country extraordinarily well in a variety of senior assignments over many years," Burns said. "If he does decide to retire, we will be sorry to see him go."

Negroponte entered the Foreign Service in 1960, serving in Hong Kong from 1961 to 1963 and then spending four years as a political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Saigon during the Vietnam War.

He was an aide to then-National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger at the Paris peace talks but fell out of favor with his boss by arguing that the chief U.S. negotiator was making too many concessions to the North Vietnamese.

When, a decade later, he appeared before a Senate committee for confirmation as envoy to Honduras, he said, "I believe we must do our best not to allow the tragic outcome of Indochina to be repeated in Central America."

Pub Date: 4/19/97

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