Yesterday his fabled diplomatic skills were strained to breaking-point when he was grilled about his conduct of American foreign policy in the 1970s by Jeremy Paxman, the BBC's chief inquisitor. The BBC denied the former national security adviser and secretary of state walked out of a live recording of Radio 4's Start The Week programme in high dudgeon after Mr Paxman suggested he had been a fraud to accept the Nobel peace prize.
But Dr Kissinger, in Britain to promote the latest volume of his memoirs, Years of Renewal, was clearly rattled by the interrogation. At one point, the man regarded as one of the foremost statesman of the 20th century accused Mr Paxman of lying to listeners. Only at the last minute and after lengthy negotiations did he agreed to take part in the show.
Dr Kissinger reportedly suspected he was being "set up" when he learnt his fellow guests were Geoffrey Robertson, QC, the human rights campaigner, and Frances Stonor Saunders, author of a book about the CIA.
When the programme went on air yesterday morning, it was still unclear whether he would remain in the studio for follow-up questions by Mr Robertson and Ms Stonor Saunders. Producers hoped he would, but Mr Paxman warned listeners that Dr Kissinger "may have to leave early".
Mr Paxman initially disarmed his prey by showering him with flattery, calling him "the most famous diplomat of the last 30 years" and recalling that he was once voted most popular choice for a date in a poll of Playboy bunnies.
He then moved in for the kill, accusing Dr Kissinger of trying to "rewrite history", deriding his claim to have helped to end the Cold War and criticising America's support for General Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator.
When the conversation turned to Indo-China Dr Kissinger, who worked with Presidents Nixon and Ford, began to lose his famous cool.
Noting that he received the Nobel peace prize for negotiating an Indo- Chinese settlement in 1973, Mr Paxman asked: "Was there any part of you that felt a fraud in accepting it?" "A what?" spluttered Dr Kissinger.
Mr Paxman referred to a huge loss of life as a result of America's subsequent bombing of Cambodia. Dr Kissinger said: "That's absolutely untrue. There's not the slightest evidence of tens of thousands of people being killed ... this is absolutely outrageous nonsense."
When Mr Paxman called the bombing campaign "a secret operation against a neutral country", Dr Kissinger lost his rag. "Come on, Mr Paxman, this is 15 years or more back, and you at least have the ability to educate yourself and not lie on your own programme," he said. "You are accusing me of a lot of things here that are simply outrageous."
He answered two questions from Mr Robertson, then background noise indicated he was leaving the studio. "OK, bye Dr Kissinger," Mr Paxman called out after him.
Dr Kissinger's publishers dismissed suggestions that he had been riled by the interview. "He's used to fielding questions," said Lisa Shakespeare, publicity manager of Weidenfeld & Nicolson. "It was a discussion between two heavyweight political figures."
The BBC said in a statement the "challenging conversation" had "made fascinating listening", adding: "We welcomed his contribution to the programme and hoped he would join the debate with the other guests. Sadly he chose to leave the programme after the interview."
Review page 3
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Nigel Lawson v Brian Redhead
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The Bee Gees v Clive Anderson
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Oliver Reed v Kate Millet
In 1991, the late Oliver Reed climbed over a sofa and kissed Kate Millet, the feminist writer, on C4's After Dark programme
John Humphrys v Harriet Harman
He roasted her on the Today programme over her policy to cut benefits for single mothers when she was social security secretary in 1997.