OBITUARY: Robert Frasure

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The Independent Online
Robert Frasure died when the armoured vehicle he was travelling in plunged off the Mount Igman road near Sarajevo. Two other US diplomats, were also killed. Frasure had 21 years' experience in the diplomatic service, and was a key figure in the US peace team in former Yugoslavia. At the time of his death he was travelling in convoy from capital to capital briefing regional leaders on the US peace initiative.

Frasure was the chief US negotiator in the team and regarded as President Bill Clinton's special envoy in the region. As was the case in his previous postings in Africa, Frasure played a far more telling role than his job description - Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs - would suggest: as a negotiator he was one of the few people taken seriously by every side in the conflict in Bosnia, dealing face to face with the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, and the Bosnian president, Alia Izebegovic.

Frasure's family background was academic, and he studied at West Virginia University, where his father was a professor. He later took a masters degree at the London School of Economics and a doctorate at Duke University, North Carolina. He taught at the University of the South and at Duke before joining the State Department in 1974 .

Frasure held positions in Switzerland, Germany, Britain, Nigeria, Ethiopia and, most recently, Estonia, where he was the US ambassador and re- established an American diplomatic presence in that country, before his assignment last year to the Balkans.

In 1991 George Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal for Exceptional Service for his role, during his time in Addis Ababa, in the downfall of the Mengistu regime and in the airlift of over 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Louis Jebb

The trouble with Bob Frasure for a journalist was that you could never be sure whether his laser-guided aphorisms were United States government policy or Bob letting off steam, writes Richard Dowden. What you could be sure of was that if you quoted them, there could be no pretence of hiding behind a faceless "Western diplomat source . . ." or "US government official . . .". Only Bob Frasure could have dreamed up the pithy phrases he delighted in honing. A former boss of his at the State Department told me that when Frasure was abroad he always sought out his telegrams first because they guaranteed the best entertainment of the day.

In the 1980s, when he was involved in the interminable superpower talks over Cuban withdrawal from Angola and Namibian independence, he spelt out the aim of US policy: "To allow Namibia to return to that anonymity it so richly deserves."

Coming from an academic background, Frasure enjoyed taking the lofty view. He once compared Angola in the 1980s to 17th-century Germany half way through the Thirty Years War. What the Boer Generals and Angolan Marxist Leninists made of this is hard to imagine. But far from living in an ivory tower or using American power to force through diplomacy, Bob Frasure tried to get inside the skin of his interlocutors. His analysis always included rich personal anecdotes and images of the apparently impervious politician being undermined by simple human failings such as boredom or greed or succumbing to a nagging wife.

Having served in Lagos, which he claimed to love, and London where British politics fed his boundless love of the ridiculous, Frasure was posted to Pretoria where he was virtually the Ambassador at a time when the Apartheid government was beginning to shift. Unfortunately he fell for a mean honey- trap set up by the South African secret police and was quickly moved to the other end of the continent, to Ethiopia.

Although smarting from the setback in Pretoria, Frasure entered Ethiopian history with enthusiasm. President Mengistu was shooting generals for failure and the Russians were beginning to walk away from Africa; no better time for Frasure to savour the drama and begin to lay the diplomatic groundwork which culminated in the American-sponsored removal of Mengistu in 1991 and the take-over by the rebels. By that time Frasure was in the White House as President Bush's adviser on Africa.

He only met journalists in private - I never heard of him holding a press conference - and none of us ever saw him in those meetings at which the screws were tightened, the concessions were made and the deals were cut. But that was where he was at his best, manipulating the weaknesses and foibles be studied so carefully in order to push forward a grand plan he could describe so simply.

His appointment as the State Department's Mr Bosnia confirmed that this immense talent had not gone unappreciated.

The last time I saw him was in Washington, his small wiry frame hunched over his desk. He was giving out down the phone to Bosnia while his eyes twinkled with irony behind thick, rimless glasses. He put down the phone and laughed. "Nothing, nobody, I ever came across in Africa ever prepared me for the awfulness of these people," he said, "And everything we and the Europeans have done so far has only made them worse." Far from being repelled by that awfulness, he was revelling in it.

Robert Frasure, diplomat: born Morgantown, West Virginia 20 April 1942; married Katharina Whitting (two daughters); died Sarajevo 19 August 1995.