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RFK Demonstrates Unique Style of Diplomacy

Jan. 25, 1964 - When Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy flew out of Bangkok Thursday night, he left behind groups of exhausted officials who had experienced his special style of fast-moving diplomacy. Mr. Kennedy visited five Asian capitals in seven days and then set out on a 14-hour flight to London.

When he started last Friday on his mission as President Johnson’s special envoy, he was given little chance of success by old Asian hands, who themselves had been caught all too often in the intricacies of that area’s politics. Mr. Kennedy’s announced purpose was to take the Malaysian controversy “out of the jungle and into the conference room” before it developed into an all-out war. To the surprise of many, he succeeded handsomely. Barely a week before Mr. Kennedy met President Sukarno of Indonesia, Indonesian leaders had said unequivocally they would not agree to a cease-fire along the norther Borneo border. But Mr. Kennedy managed to obtain from Sukarno an agreement to halt guerrilla raids into Sabah and Sarawak, the Malaysian territories bordering Indonesian Borneo. He also arranged a preliminary meeting of the foreign ministers of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia at Bangkok in the first week of February to work out the details for a meeting of the leaders of the three countries.

Wherever the 38-year-old Attorney General went, he was watched with great interest by Asians. Mr. Kennedy’s style was blunt, fast, and direct. He was chosen for the mission, an aide said, because the State Department considered him the only man in the Administration with the type of personality that would make an impression on such a tough and complex man as Sukarno, a key figure in the controversy. “On several occasions, the more proper types who sat in with him were appalled at Mr. Kennedy’s frankness in talking to these people,” one U.S. official said. “But he has a way of dealing with people as equals, talking neither up nor down to them. Somehow it worked out here.”


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