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Philip Charles Habib (February 25, 1920 – May 25, 1992) was a Lebanese-American career diplomat known for work in Vietnam, South Korea and the Middle East. The New York Times in observing his death described him as "the outstanding professional diplomat of his generation in the United States."
Habib was born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bensonhurst section by Lebanese Maronite Catholic parents. He worked as a shipping clerk before starting his undergraduate study at the College of Forestry and Wildlife and Range Sciences at the University of Idaho. After graduating in 1942, he served in the United States Army until 1946 and attained the rank of captain. He continued his education in an agricultural economics Ph.D. program at University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1952. There he came across a flyer advertising the United States Department of State entrance exam, which he sat for and passed.
Foreign service career
Beginning in 1949, his foreign service career took him to Canada, New Zealand, South Korea (twice), Somalia, and South Vietnam. He held the State Department position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 1967–1969 and was part of the Vietnamese peace talk delegation in 1968. Habib acquired increasingly important posts, serving as Ambassador to South Korea (1971–1974), Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (1974–1976), and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (1976–1978), during which time he was the chief mediator for the US between Israel and Egypt in the Camp David Peace Accord. According to some reports, he intervened to save the life of South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae-jung during a kidnapping in 1973. Kim later became the first opposition leader in South Korea to become president and also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his reconciliation efforts with North Korea.
While he was the Ambassador to South Korea, Habib was the main impetus behind the building of a new Ambassador's residence, a noteworthy neo-classic Korean architectural design. The residence was later named Habib House in honor of his efforts.
Habib retired from the foreign service after suffering a third heart attack. In 1978 he accepted a teaching position (as "Diplomat-in-residence") at The University of Michigan but soon returned to public service in 1979, as a special advisor and, in 1981, as a special envoy sent to defuse the Lebanese Civil War by Ronald Reagan. Habib negotiated a peace that allowed the PLO to evacuate from the besieged city of Beirut. In 1982, for his efforts he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the highest official honor given to a US citizen by the US government.
Early in 1986, Reagan sent Habib to the Philippines to convince President Ferdinand Marcos to step down. In March 1986, Reagan appointed him as a special envoy to Central America with the intention of furthering US interests in the conflict in Nicaragua. Administration hard-liners intended to use his fame and stature to advance a military solution, namely further funding of the Contras.
However, Habib took his job seriously. Deciding that the Contadora Plan had run its course, Óscar Arias, the newly elected president of Costa Rica, drew up a plan that focused on democratization. While he viewed the Arias plan as riddled with loopholes, Habib took it seriously and worked to help revise it. "Phillip Habib became my ambassador to the rest of the Central American presidents," said Arias.
On August 7, 1987, the five Central American Presidents, much to the shock of the rest of the world, agreed in principle to the Arias plan. Because further negotiating would require Habib to meet directly with Nicaragua's President, Daniel Ortega, President Reagan forbade him to travel. Believing he no longer had the confidence of the president, Habib resigned.
Death and legacy
Warren Zevon song
Warren Zevon wrote the song "The Envoy", from his 1982 album of the same name, in honor of Habib. He later claimed to have received a letter of appreciation from Habib on U.S. State Department stationery.
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- Molotsky, Irvin. (May 28, 1981). "Man in the News; Tireless Trouble-Shooter for the U.S.". The New York Times, p. 3.
- Manegold, Catherine S. (May 27, 1992). "Philip C. Habib, a Leading U.S. Diplomat, Dies at 72". The New York Times, p. 21.
- "Habib Remembered As a Blunt Diplomat Who Defied Clichés". (June 11, 1992). New York Times, p. 22.
- University of Idaho Alumni Hall of Fame - 1969 Philip C. Habib
- Saving Kim Dae-jung: A tale of two dissident diplomats The Boston Globe
- Necessary illusions: thought control in democratic societies
- "SIX DISTINGUISHED DIPLOMATS HONORED ON U.S. POSTAGE STAMPS" (Press release). United States Postal Service. 2006-05-30. Retrieved 2008-07-17. "Philip C. Habib (1920-1992) was renowned for his diplomacy in some of the world's most dangerous flash points. An authority on Southeast Asia, a peace negotiator in the Middle East, and a special envoy to Central America, Habib was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1982."
and ed. William J. Gicker (2006). "Distinguished American Diplomats 39¢". USA Philatelic (print) 11 (3): 14.
Robert S. Ingersoll
|Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
September 27, 1974 – June 30, 1976
Arthur W. Hummel, Jr.