'War crimes' protest as Kissinger visits Cork

Thu, Feb 28, 2002, 00:00

Former US Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger denied he was a war criminal yesterday, saying it was an insult to human intelligence for protesters in Cork to compare him to Slobodan Milosevic.

Protesters at University College Cork chanted and waved banners bearing the words "The Milosevic of Manhattan" prior to the arrival of the 56th US Secretary of State, who was in office during the controversial Nixon administration.

Dr Kissinger said he was pleased to discover that even in Ireland people were not indifferent to him. However, he said he was incensed at comparisons made between him and known war criminals.

"These people are throwing around allegedly criminal charges without a shred of real evidence. I don't know who they [the protesters\] represent, but I wish their knowledge equalled their passion."

Dr Kissinger, who was visiting the university to deliver a speech at an MBA Association of Ireland business conference, said he had never replied to derogatory remarks made about him in the media.

"I consider them [the accusations] fundamentally beneath contempt. They are based on distortions and mis-representations."

The focus of his address was on US foreign policy, particularly in the post September 11th world climate.

Dr Kissinger said the international scene was experiencing extraordinary change for which there is no historical precedent.

One of the biggest challenges facing the US administration, he said, was to bring countries together to prevent the spread of biological and chemical weapons.

"It requires global action. There is no way this can be done by one nation on its own. The hardest thing for America is to get a focus on the important, not the urgent - to get a sense of where you are going to be three or four years from now."

Dr Kissinger said there were countries capable of transforming and becoming powerful enough to make what happened at the Twin Towers look like a tea party.

"The American people have pulled together in an amazing way and have shown a spirit of patriotism I haven't seen since the second World War. But nobody can conceive that we can deal with these problems all by ourselves."

He commended the performance of President Bush in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, saying he had handled the situation remarkably well.

However, he argued the attacks were a tremendous shock to most Americans, who never believed their country could be vulnerable to such atrocities.

Dr Kissinger's visit to Cork has been condemned by human rights organisations which say he has frequently flouted international law in his dealings with Bangladesh, Chile and East Timor.

Cork Sinn Féin councillor Mr Jonathan O'Brien told a recent council meeting that Dr Kissinger was not welcome in the city, and called on UCC to cancel his invitation.

The controversial speaker is the subject of a recent book by best- selling author Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger. Hitchens has said Dr Kissinger should go on trial as a war criminal for his role in the bombing of Cambodia between 1969 and 1973.

The former Secretary of State has also been accused of being complicit in the overthrow of the government of Chile in 1973 by the dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Dr Kissinger began his career as a lecturer at Harvard from the late 1950s until 1969 when he was appointed assistant for national security affairs in the Nixon administration.

As US Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977 he played a major role in formulating US foreign policy, helping to initiate Strategic Arms Limitation Talks with the Soviet Union, and arranging President Nixon's visit to China in 1972.

Dr Kissinger was a key negotiator of the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

Since 1977 he has lectured and served as a consultant on international affairs.