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Lucius Battle, 89; Diplomat Influenced Middle East Policy

Lucius Battle, shown with Egyptian painter Gazbia Sirry, was an ambassador to Cairo.
Lucius Battle, shown with Egyptian painter Gazbia Sirry, was an ambassador to Cairo. (1974 Photo By Harry Naltchayan -- The Washington Post)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lucius D. Battle, 89, a State Department official who in the 1960s was deeply involved in Middle East policy as U.S. ambassador to Cairo and assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, died May 13 at his home in Washington. He had Parkinson's disease.

"Luke" Battle was special assistant and executive secretary to two secretaries of state: Dean Acheson in the early 1950s and Dean Rusk in the early 1960s. Under Rusk, he oversaw a State Department reorganization that included the formation of a 24-hour "crisis center."

He earned a reputation for competence, underscored by Acheson's reputed remark about his "indispensable aide": that a successful diplomat needs "an assistant with nerves of steel, a sense of purpose and a Southern accent." Mr. Battle was born in Georgia.

From November 1964 to January 1967, he was the top U.S. envoy to Egypt, then under the nationalist rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser and calling itself the United Arab Republic. The U.A.R. had been formed in 1958 as the union of Egypt and Syria before the latter seceded in 1961.

In the weeks after his arrival in Cairo, Mr. Battle issued formal protests to the Egyptian government over several crises and confrontations. That November, anti-American demonstrators burned and looted parts of the U.S. Embassy, including its 27,000-volume library, and Mr. Battle was furious that he reached the embassy from a quarter-mile away before the local fire squad, which was within 200 yards of the compound.

During his tenure he also helped orchestrate the extended visit to the United States in 1966 by Anwar Sadat, a high-ranking Nasser aide. Later, as president of Egypt, Sadat led his country away from Soviet military and economic ties and allied himself with the West.

Mr. Battle returned to Washington in early 1967 after his appointment as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, which included responsibilities for relations with Israel and several Arab nations.

He held the position at the time of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and resigned in September 1968 to become an executive with the Communications Satellite Corp.

Lucius Durham Battle was born June 1, 1918, in Dawson, Ga., and raised in Bradenton, Fla., where his father owned a hardware store. He was a 1939 graduate of the University of Florida, where he also received a law degree just after World War II. He had served in the Navy in the Pacific.

He joined the State Department in 1946 and was soon helping administer the Marshall Plan, the postwar economic aid program for Europe.

Mr. Battle first left government in 1956 to become public relations director at Colonial Williamsburg Inc., the historic restoration project in southeastern Virginia. He also served as a vice president of the organization before rejoining the State Department in 1961.

From 1962 to 1964, Mr. Battle was assistant secretary of state for education and culture. His work included overseeing cultural exchanges. He also served on a panel that recommended continued planning for what became the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. His own interest in the arts included involvement in restoring historic Georgetown homes and helping found the short-lived Washington Gallery of Modern Art in the early 1960s.

His wife, Betty Davis Battle, whom he married in 1949, died in 2004.

Survivors include four children, Lynne Battle of Bethesda, John Battle of Concord, Mass., Laura Battle of Rhinebeck, N.Y., and Thomas Battle of Belmont, Mass.; and eight grandchildren.

After leaving government, Mr. Battle remained engaged in Middle East policy as president of the Middle East Institute and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies' Foreign Policy Institute. Among his many foreign policy and cultural affiliations, he was advisory board chairman of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations since 1995.

Despite his abiding interest in shaping peace in a volatile region, he said he turned down President Jimmy Carter's offer in February 1977 to appoint him U.S. ambassador to Iran.

"Needless to say," he said, "that's one I'm really glad I didn't take."


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