William D. Rogers, 80; Adviser to Kissinger

William D. Rogers played a major role in sensitive talks during his 1970s State Department tenures.
William D. Rogers played a major role in sensitive talks during his 1970s State Department tenures. (1988 Washington Post Photo)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 27, 2007

William D. Rogers, 80, a District lawyer and Latin America expert who became a top adviser to Henry A. Kissinger at the State Department in the mid-1970s and afterward as an international consultant, died Sept. 22 near Upperville after a heart attack during a fox hunt.

Mr. Rogers periodically interrupted his long career as a partner in the Arnold & Porter law firm for government assignments in Republican and Democratic administrations.

His most-remembered work as a public servant was in the mid-1970s, when he held two posts under Kissinger, who was secretary of state: assistant secretary for inter-American affairs and undersecretary for economic affairs.

During those years, he played prominent roles in sensitive negotiations. They included planning the U.S. handover of the Panama Canal, applying financial and political pressure to help end Ian Smith's white regime in majority-black Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and holding secret talks with Cuban emissaries about softening relations with Fidel Castro's regime. The last effort was scuttled when Castro sent troops to Angola during its civil war.

Mr. Rogers also served as a presidential envoy to investigate the 1980 slaying of Catholic U.S. churchwomen in El Salvador by the country's security forces. He also was appointed senior counselor to a Kissinger-led commission that made recommendations about military and economic assistance in Central America in the early 1980s.

In 1982, Mr. Rogers was among the founding employees of Kissinger's New York-based international consulting firm and later became its vice chairman.

Mr. Rogers remained a staunch supporter of the former secretary of state, particularly after books and news accounts showed Kissinger's public service in an unsavory light.

Mr. Rogers was incensed about negative portrayals of Kissinger's legacy on human rights -- and, by extension, his own -- especially regarding the U.S. relationship with Chile during Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

In 2003, he persuaded the State Department to distance itself from a statement by then-Secretary Colin L. Powell that the U.S. policy toward Chile in the 1970s was "not a part of American history that we are proud of."

Mr. Rogers said of Powell: "He was implying that the U.S. was morally responsible for what happened in Chile. He bought the myth."

Subsequently declassified U.S. documents showed that Mr. Rogers pressed his boss to make human rights a central part of private discussions with Pinochet during Kissinger's visit to Chile.

Kissinger praised Mr. Rogers yesterday, calling him a "great advocate of human rights" and an "absolutely dedicated man who stood for fundamental values."

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