John Gunther Dean, U.S. Ambassador as Cambodia Fell, Dies at 93


As ambassador to Cambodia from 1974-75, Mr. Dean sought to bring about a negotiated “controlled” solution to the Cambodian war, much as he had in Laos. But this put him openly at odds with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, who saw no reason to negotiate.

Mr. Dean continued to seek support for a peaceful solution. But Congress — and the American public — wanted out. President Gerald R. Ford ordered the closing of the embassy and the evacuation of all remaining American personnel, for their own safety. The war in Vietnam ended three weeks later.

Mr. Dean never accepted the abandonment of Cambodia.

“You don’t walk away and leave people to this kind of fate, when one knew what that fate was,” he told The Times in 1991, referring to the genocide. “I was loud and clear in saying at the time what those consequences would be.”

Mr. Dean’s next assignment was as ambassador to Denmark and then Lebanon, where he survived at least two assassination attempts. This included one in 1980, which Mr. Dean believed was carried out by Mossad, Israel’s secret intelligence service; he said in the oral history that Israel had perceived him as a protector of the Palestinians and wanted him out. The charge was never proved.

In that incident, he and his family were in a motorcade when they were fired upon, but his car was bulletproof, and when the tires appeared to be blown out, they automatically reinflated, and the car drove on to safety.

Mr. Dean later used his contacts within the Palestine Liberation Organization to help secure the release of some of the more than 50 hostages taken by Iranian revolutionaries in 1979 at the American Embassy in Tehran.

He was forced to retire in the late 1980s over differences with American policies toward Israel.

But it was his experience in Cambodia and all the people he was compelled to leave behind that remained most anguishing for him.

“I failed,” he told The Associated Press in 2015. “I tried so hard. I took as many people as I could, hundreds of them, I took them out, but I couldn’t take the whole nation out.”

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