Anatoly Dobrynin, Key Soviet Diplomat, Dies At 90
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And now we remember a man who straddled the symbolic border known as the Iron Curtain. Anatoly Dobrynin spent nearly a quarter of a century as the Soviet Union's ambassador to the United States. His tenure in Washington stretched from 1962 to 1986. It spanned the frightening days of the Cuban Missile Crisis to the dawn of Perestroika. Dobrynin died this week, in Moscow, at the age of 90.
As diplomatic correspondent and Moscow bureau chief for CBS and NBC News, Marvin Kalb knew and covered Dobrynin for many years, and he joined us from his home in Washington, D.C.
Mr. MARVIN KALB (Journalist): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Remind us just how threatened the U.S. felt by the Soviet Union and vice versa, when Anatoly Dobrynin arrived in Washington as ambassador in 1962.
Mr. KALB: Well, Renee, let's try to remember that I think it was seven, eight months after he arrived here that the Cuban Missile Crisis began. And during the Cuban Missile Crisis, having been here only for that brief period of time, Dobrynin so quickly fell into a master performance of secret diplomacy with Robert Kennedy, the attorney general, the brother of the president, and met with him several times in order to work out the basis of a swap that the Russians would, in effect, remove their missiles from Cuba and we would remove a bunch of antique missiles from Turkey.
But it sounded right. It was a swap. And he felt that would go well in the Kremlin and in the U.S.
MONTAGNE: You know, and he forged a working relationship with six American presidents.
Mr. KALB: Yes.
MONTAGNE: A friendly one, even; stayed on the good side of nearly as many different Communist Party leaders in the Kremlin not - no small feat.
Mr. KALB: No.
MONTAGNE: What was his secret?
Mr. KALB: Well, Dobrynin was an extraordinary man in many ways. He was the complete diplomat. He understood America. He really liked America. He liked American culture. The idea of seeing Dobrynin, for example, on a bike riding over to Safeway or to McDonald's with his granddaughter that, you could see on the streets of Washington. Of course, there was security there, too. But he did it.
It wasnt just a guy who would sit in the back of a limo. He was a guy...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KALB: ...who really had a hotline to Henry Kissinger. He had a hotline to President Lyndon Johnson. Whoever did it, he was dean of the diplomatic Corps; tall, imposing man, bespectacled, charming when he wished to be. And what a lot of people seem to forget, he did represent the Soviet Union during the worst days of the Cold War. So you were dealing with somebody capable of bridging the needs of the Kremlin with the requirements of the opposition - namely, the U.S.
MONTAGNE: And we just have a few, really, seconds here. But if there's a single story that you could tell about him, what would that be?
Mr. KALB: Single story for me has always been, I did a documentary called "The Volga." I called Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state part god, part Boy Scout. The people in the Kremlin didnt mind the god but they objected to the Boy Scout. And they denied me a visa for many years.
Dobrynin, I think, after a couple of years managed to persuade the Kremlin to let this reporter come back to Moscow.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. KALB: My pleasure.
MONTAGNE: Journalist Marvin Kalb on the death of Diplomat Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Union's ambassador to the U.S. from the days of JFK to Reagan.
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