Ambassador Hill Remembers Holbrooke

Melissa Block speaks with Christopher Hill, former ambassador to Iraq, who worked with Richard Holbrooke on the Dayton Accords. Hill reflects on his former colleague and mentor.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm joined now by Ambassador Christopher Hill. He was a top negotiator on the Dayton Accords with Richard Holbrooke. And he considers him a close friend.

Ambassador Hill, I'm very sorry for your loss.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER HILL (Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): Thank you very much.

BLOCK: I gather as well as being a friend of Dick Holbrooke, you also consider him a mentor over the years. What did he teach you?

Mr. HILL: I used to kid him. I'd call him my mentor and my tormentor. You know, working for him was more than a job, it was a devotion. But I think what you really learned from him is don't shy away from the hard stuff. I mean, go right to the hard issues. And so throughout my career I've just been very inspired by him.

BLOCK: There's a statement today from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is of course very close to Dick Holbrooke, calling him the consummate diplomat, able to stare down dictators and stand up for America's interests and values even under the most difficult circumstances. And imagine you're filled with memories of those Dayton negotiations in which he was staring down a dictator, Slobodan Milosevic for one. How did he do what he did at Dayton, and bring these three presidents - a Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian presidents - to an agreement?

Mr. HILL: First of all, he just brought this incredible passion to his work, but he just brought this incredible energy level as well. And often he just outworked his interlocutors. I think when he spoke people understood that this must be very important to the United States. And I don't remember staring contests. I remember a few shouting contests...

BLOCK: Shouting contests.

Mr. HILL: ...on the - and he won those as well.

BLOCK: Did he talk to you over the years about the lessons of Vietnam, what they meant to him and how he carried those lessons through his diplomatic career?

Mr. HILL: He was very affected by his service in Vietnam. As you know, it was his first assignment in the Foreign Service. So, I think he was very affected by the difficulty of the problem and the fact that we needed to get out ahead of the problem. And so, I think he approached problems with a certain energy and a foresight that was drawn from his Vietnam experiences.

BLOCK: Did he talk to you about his frustrations, his challenges working in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Mr. HILL: He did not talk about his frustrations. He talked about the difficulties. He talked about the difficulties of getting our interlocutors to do things we wanted them to do. But, you know, he would never admit to being pulled down by a problem. He would never admit to frustration. And another part of his character was he always had this kind of optimistic sense that he could prevail.

The last time saw him he had returned from Pakistan at four in the morning, spent all day in the office, gave a speech at Brookings, and we met at dinner at about 9 o'clock, for which of course he was about a half hour late, but he was always late. And he wasn't drawn down by it all.

BLOCK: Ambassador Hill, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. HILL: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Ambassador Christopher Hill recalling his friend, colleague and mentor Richard Holbrooke, who died today at age 69.

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