Mark Palmer | Longtime diplomat, 71

Posted: February 09, 2013

Mark Palmer, 71, a forceful and influential diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary during the collapse of communism, and who was a chief author of President Ronald Reagan's 1982 speech declaring that Marxism was headed toward "the ash heap of history," died Jan. 28 at his home in Washington. He had melanoma, his wife, Sushma Palmer, said.

From his first visit to the Soviet Union when he was 19, Mr. Palmer recognized that the Russian people were different from the Soviet government.

"I profoundly believed that Russians were like Americans," he recalled in an oral history interview with the State Department in the late 1990s.

Building on that belief of shared humanity, Mr. Palmer spent 26 years in the Foreign Service and became the State Department's top expert on Soviet affairs in the 1980s.

Earlier, he was the sole speechwriter for Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger from 1973 to 1975.

Mr. Palmer was named U.S. ambassador to Hungary in 1986.

He organized the 1985 Geneva summit between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which was considered a diplomatic breakthrough that led to a thawing of relations between the superpowers.

Mr. Palmer received three presidential awards, but he left the Foreign Service under pressure in 1990 after he was recruited to lead a new Western-financed business venture in Eastern Europe. The move was interpreted as a conflict of interest by several members of Congress and some of his State Department supervisors. He said he followed department procedures, but he spent $60,000 in legal fees to defend his name.

"I waited for about a year to see whether the department would ever have the decency to apologize to me for what I'd been put through," Mr. Palmer said in the oral history. "Nothing. Never a word." - Washington Post

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