William H. Sullivan

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William H. Sullivan
The Shah with Atherton, Sullivan, Vance, Carter and Brzezinski, 1977.jpg
The Iranian Shah meeting with Alfred Atherton, William Sullivan, Cyrus Vance, U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1977.
United States Ambassador to Iran
In office
President Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Richard Helms
Succeeded by Bruce Laingen (chargé d'affaires)
United States Ambassador to the Philippines
In office
August 6, 1973 April 26, 1977
President Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Henry A. Byroade
Succeeded by David D. Newsom
United States Ambassador to Laos
In office
December 23, 1964 March 18, 1969
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
Preceded by Leonard S. Unger
Succeeded by G. McMurtrie Godley
Personal details
William Healy Sullivan

(1922-10-12)October 12, 1922
Cranston, Rhode Island, U.S.
DiedOctober 11, 2013(2013-10-11) (aged 90)
Washington, D. C., U.S.
ResidenceWashington, D. C., U.S.
Alma mater Brown University

William Healy Sullivan (October 12, 1922 – October 11, 2013) was an American Foreign Service career officer who served as Ambassador to Laos from 1964–1969, the Philippines from 1973–1977, and Iran from 1977–1979. [1]

United States Foreign Service responsible for the foreign policy of the United States

The United States Foreign Service is the primary personnel system used by the diplomatic service of the United States federal government, under the aegis of the United States Department of State. It consists of over 13,000 professionals carrying out the foreign policy of the United States and aiding U.S. citizens abroad.

Foreign relations of Laos

The foreign relations of Laos, internationally designated by its official name as the Lao People's Democratic Republic, after the takeover by the Pathet Lao in December 1975, were characterized by a hostile posture toward the West, with the government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic aligning itself with the Soviet bloc, maintaining close ties with the Soviet Union and depending heavily on the Soviets for most of its foreign assistance. Laos also maintained a "special relationship" with Vietnam and formalized a 1977 treaty of friendship and cooperation that created tensions with China.

Foreign relations of the Philippines are administered by the President of the Philippines and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Philippine international affairs are influenced by ties to its Southeast Asian neighbors, China, the United States, and the Middle East.


Early life and career

Sullivan was born in Cranston, Rhode Island, and graduated from Brown University as salutatorian and Class Orator of the class of 1943. His senior address was on America's duty to "aid in repairing not only the damage suffered by our Allies, but also that sustained by our enemies." [2] After graduation, he entered the Navy and served as a gunnery officer on a destroyer, the USS Hambleton . The Hambleton escorted North Atlantic convoys, and served off North Africa and Italy before participating in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the invasion of Okinawa. He had the senior watch on the Hambleton when it entered Yokohama harbor for the Japanese surrender. [3]

Cranston, Rhode Island City in Rhode Island, United States

Cranston, once known as Pawtuxet, is a city in Providence County, Rhode Island, United States. With a population of 80,529 at the 2010 census, it is the third largest city in the state. The center of population of Rhode Island is located in Cranston. Cranston is a part of the Providence metropolitan area.

Brown University University in Providence, Rhode Island

Brown University is a private Ivy League research university in Providence, Rhode Island. Founded in 1764 as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, it is the seventh-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution.

After obtaining a joint graduate degree from Harvard University and the Fletcher School at Tufts University under the GI Bill, Sullivan joined the Foreign Service and was posted to Bangkok, Thailand. During that tour, he was in brief communication with the Viet Cong, who were in exile in northern Thailand. His subsequent assignments were to Calcutta, India, Tokyo, Japan, Naples and Rome, Italy, and The Hague, Netherlands.

Harvard University private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities.

Tufts University private research university in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts

Tufts University is a private research university in Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts. A charter member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), Tufts College was founded in 1852 by Christian universalists who worked for years to open a nonsectarian institution of higher learning. It was a small New England liberal arts college until its transformation into a larger research university in the 1970s. The university emphasizes active citizenship and public service in all its disciplines, and is known for its internationalism and study abroad programs.

Bangkok Special administrative area in Thailand

Bangkok is the capital and most populous city of Thailand. It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or simply Krung Thep. The city occupies 1,568.7 square kilometres (605.7 sq mi) in the Chao Phraya River delta in central Thailand, and has a population of over eight million, or 12.6 percent of the country's population. Over fourteen million people lived within the surrounding Bangkok Metropolitan Region at the 2010 census, making Bangkok the nation's primate city, significantly dwarfing Thailand's other urban centres in terms of importance.

His habit of speaking his mind with force and candor grated on more than one superior, and for years he languished in the lower grades. Then, in the Kennedy administration, he was assigned to the office of W. Averell Harriman, the Assistant Secretary for the Far East. Harriman, no admirer of blandness, immediately recognized his abilities. [4]

W. Averell Harriman American businessman, politician and diplomat

William Averell Harriman, better known as Averell Harriman, was an American Democratic politician, businessman, and diplomat. The son of railroad baron E. H. Harriman, he served as Secretary of Commerce under President Harry S. Truman and later as the 48th Governor of New York. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952 and 1956, as well as a core member of the group of foreign policy elders known as "The Wise Men".

Sullivan served as Harriman's deputy at Geneva negotiations about the future of Laos in 1961 and during the Cuban Missile Crisis. [5] When the Vietnam War heated up, he served briefly as deputy chief of mission to the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. [6]

Laos Socialist state in southeast Asia

Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, commonly referred to by its colloquial name of Muang Lao, is a socialist state and the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. Located at the heart of the Indochinese peninsula, Laos is bordered by Myanmar (Burma) and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the southwest, and Thailand to the west and southwest.

Cuban Missile Crisis The conflict between the US and Cuba over nuclear missile threats from communist Cuba.

The Cuban Missile Crisis, also known as the October Crisis of 1962, the Caribbean Crisis, or the Missile Scare, was a 13-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union initiated by the American discovery of Soviet ballistic missile deployment in Cuba. The confrontation is often considered the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war.

Vietnam War 1955–1975 conflict in Vietnam

The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War, was an undeclared war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies. The war is considered a Cold War-era proxy war from some US perspectives. It lasted some 19 years with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973 following the Paris Peace Accords, and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, resulting in all three countries becoming communist states in 1975.

His nephew is United States Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.

United States Deputy Secretary of State Political office in the United States

The Deputy Secretary of State of the United States is the principal deputy to the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State resigns or dies, the Deputy Secretary of State becomes Acting Secretary of State until the President nominates and the Senate confirms a replacement. The position was created in 1972. Prior to July 13, 1972, the Under Secretary of State had been the second ranking officer of the Department of State. The position is held by John J. Sullivan.

John J. Sullivan (diplomat) American lawyer

John Joseph Sullivan is an American lawyer and government official serving as the 19th and current United States Deputy Secretary of State since 2017. A member of the Republican Party, Sullivan served as Acting United States Secretary of State from April 1, 2018 to April 26, 2018, following President Donald Trump's dismissal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 13, 2018, until Tillerson's official successor, Mike Pompeo, was sworn in. Tillerson did not officially leave office until March 31, 2018. Sullivan, however, was delegated all responsibilities of the Secretary of State beginning March 13.

Ambassador to Laos

In 1964, Sullivan began his tenure as Ambassador to Laos. During his service in Laos, Sullivan broached negotiations with the North Vietnamese, capitalizing on his prior contacts with the Viet Cong in Thailand nearly 20 years previously, for the initiation of the Paris Peace Talks that ended the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. [7] Pursuant to an order by President Kennedy, all U.S. military operations in Laos were under the direct supervision of the Ambassador. [8] As Ambassador to Laos during Project 404, and he also personally directed the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail. This civilian control and the restriction on military operations rankled the military. [1]

After he left Laos, Sullivan returned to Washington to coordinate the U.S. participation in the Paris Peace Talks. [9] Thereafter, he was appointed Ambassador to the Philippines. South Vietnam fell while he in the Philippines, and Sullivan orchestrated the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people through that nation. He was able to convince President Marcos to permit the fleeing South Vietnamese navy to land, despite a demand from the new Communist Vietnamese government for its return, by arguing that the ships were in fact U.S. property after the fall of the South Vietnamese government, as a result of the terms of their sale to that state. [10]

Ambassador to Iran

Sullivan next served as U.S. Ambassador to Iran, arriving just before President Jimmy Carter's visit to the Shah of Iran in December 1977. In the 1970s, America had extremely close military and economic links with Iran. However, in early 1978, growing unrest due to inflation and other economic hardships fueled by the growing tide of fundamentalist Islam led to demonstrations against the Shah. During the next year, however, as the domestic situation in Iran was rapidly unraveling, Washington had few instructions for the Embassy in Iran. [11]

As the demonstrations increased in scale, Sullivan came into conflict with National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski over a resolution that would be acceptable to American interests. Sullivan felt that compromise with the demonstrators and the Ayatollah Khomeini was necessary, while Brzezinski favored strong, unconditional support for the Shah and Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar. Although Brzezinski got his way, the demonstrators prevailed; in late 1978, Sullivan cabled Washington that it might be necessary to consider policy options if the military proved unable to assure the shah's continuance in power and the shah should depart from Iran. [12] In January 1979, the White House instructed Sullivan to inform the shah that the U.S. government felt he should leave the country. [13]

On February 1, 1979, the exiled Khomeini returned to Tehran. Days later, with Tehran in revolution and all organs of state essentially nonexistent, Under Secretary of State David D. Newsom called from the White House Situation Room with a question for Sullivan: "The National Security Advisor (Brzezinski) has asked for your view of the possibility of a coup d'état by the Iranian military to take over from the Bakhtiar government, which is clearly faltering."

Sullivan allegedly replied, "Tell Brzezinski to fuck off."

"That's not a very helpful comment," Newsom noted.

"You want it translated into Polish?" Sullivan hung up. [14]

On February 14, 1979, the US Embassy in Teheran was overrun by several different armed groups. [15] The Embassy staff was briefly taken hostage, but later released to the caretaker Iranian government. [16]

He wrote in his autobiography: "I had recommended that we accept the fact that a revolution was in progress and seek to use our not inconsiderable influence to steer its success toward its more moderate protagonists." This view, however, was not shared by Washington, and Sullivan was recalled in March 1979. Shortly after, on April 1, 1979, Iran officially became an Islamic Republic.

After Sullivan left Iran, the Embassy drew down to a skeleton staff, under the direction of Chargé d'Affaires Bruce Laingen, who later became one of 52 Americans held hostage by militant Iranian students.

He headed the American Assembly at Columbia University, which had been briefly headed by General Dwight Eisenhower before he was elected President, from 1979 to 1986. In 1981, Sullivan published Mission to Iran, a memoir of his time as ambassador. His autobiography, Obbligato: Notes on a Foreign Service Career, was published in 1984. [17]

Later career

He later served on the boards of the Lincoln Center, the International Center, and the U.S.- Vietnam Trade Council.

In 1988 he received an overture to begin steps towards U.S.-Vietnam normalization from his former North Vietnamese negotiations counterpart Nguyen Co Thach, who had become Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. Sullivan first traveled back to Vietnam in May 1989 to meet with Minister Thach, founded the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council, and from then continued to work on steps towards the historic normalization.

Following retirement, he lived a quiet life in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and later, Washington, D.C.

William H. Sullivan died on October 11, 2013, one day before his 91st birthday. [1] He is survived by 4 children and 6 grandchildren.

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  1. 1 2 3 William Branigin (2011-02-22). "William H. Sullivan dies at 90; veteran diplomat oversaw 'secret war' in Laos". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
  2. Obbligato: Notes on a Foreign Service Career, William H. Sullivan. W.W. Norton & Co. Inc. New York, 1984, p. 21
  3. Obbligato, pp. 73 -76.
  4. Stewart Alsop (1968), The Center: People and Power in Political Washington, 1968 reprint, New York: Popular Library, Ch. 5, "The Sad State of State", p. 101.
  5. Obliggato, pp.162-172.
  6. Obbligato, pp. 197- 208
  7. Obbligato, p. 228.
  8. Thecrimson.com/article/1971/2/23/air-war-in-laos
  9. "Interview with William H. (William Healy) Sullivan, 1981 - WGBH Open Vault". Openvault.wgbh.org. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
  10. Obbligato, p. 254. See also, The Lucky Few, Jan Herman, U.S. Naval Institute ISBN   9780870210396
  11. Mission to Iran, Norton 1981, pp. 154—193. See also, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2009/11/30-years-after-the-hostage-crisis.html
  12. Mission to Iran. Pp. 203-204.
  13. Mission to Iran, pp. 227–230.
  14. Ken Follett (1983), On Wings of Eagles, 1986 reprint, New YorK: New American Library, Ch. 9, Sec. 2, p. 269, ISBN   0-451-14505-4 .
  15. "US Embassy stormed by Tehran mob | 1970-1979 | Guardian Century". Century.theguardian.com. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
  16. Mission to Iran, pp. 257 – 268. See also, pbs.org/egbh/frontline supra.
  17. Obbligato: Notes on a Foreign Service Career, William H. Sullivan, W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., New York, 1984. ISBN   0-393-01809-1.
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Leonard S. Unger
United States Ambassador to Laos
Succeeded by
G. McMurtrie Godley
Preceded by
Henry A. Byroade
United States Ambassador to the Philippines
Succeeded by
David D. Newsom