as a potential intermediary between a
Trump White House and Russia.
America's pre-eminent ex-diplomat
gets back in the mix.
Could he help broker a deal
To which Kissinger replied:
As Vladimir Putin climbed the ranks in the Kremlin, eventually becoming the autocratic president he is today, he and Kissinger kept up a warm rapport even as the United States and Russia grew further apart.
Kissinger is one of the few Americans to meet frequently with Putin, one former U.S. ambassador recently recalled - along with movie star Steven Seagal and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, the likely next secretary of state.
Now, as Donald Trump signals that he wants a more cooperative relationship with Moscow, the 93-year-old Kissinger is positioning himself as a potential intermediary:
Like Trump, Kissinger has also cast doubt on intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia sought to sway the election in Trump's favor, telling a recent interviewer:
Some have expressed surprise that the urbane, cerebral former top diplomat would have any affinity for the brash, shoot-from-the-lip Trump.
But seasoned Kissinger watchers say it's vintage behavior for a foreign policy realist who has cozied up to all sorts of kings and presidents for decades.
And in fact, Trump may wind up an ideal vessel for Kissinger - the architect of detente with the Soviets in the 1970s - to realize his longstanding goal of warmer ties between the two Cold War adversaries.
For years, Kissinger has argued that promoting a greater balance of power between the U.S. and Russia would improve global stability.
But skeptics fear this approach will sacrifice other values and reward bad behavior by the Kremlin, including,
There's also the question of how Kissinger himself would personally benefit from a new reset with Russia.
Aside from the reputational boost of having easy access to two major world leaders, the former secretary of state's secretive consulting firm, Kissinger Associates Inc., could get a bump in business.
Trump aides did not offer a comment on the president-elect's relationship with Kissinger, who served as secretary of state and national security adviser in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
But sources familiar with the transition effort say the Manhattan real estate mogul is fascinated by Kissinger as well as other Republican elder statesmen, such as Robert Gates and Condoleezza Rice, to whom he has turned for advice on policy and staffing.
Kissinger and Trump have chatted on multiple occasions, including during at least one face-to-face meeting since the Nov. 8 election. And Kissinger, to the surprise of many in the broader foreign policy establishment, has spoken admiringly - albeit carefully - about the Trump phenomenon.
Even after Trump spoke directly with the president of Taiwan - a move that angered Beijing and went against the One China policy that Kissinger negotiated in the 1970s - the former secretary of state expressed confidence Trump would uphold U.S. diplomatic traditions with the Chinese.
Associates of Kissinger also are in touch with others in the Trump orbit.
One top Kissinger aide, Thomas Graham, is being floated among lower-level transition interlocutors as a potential ambassador to Russia, according to a source familiar with the conversations.
Graham met with House Foreign Affairs Committee staffers on Capitol Hill earlier this month, accompanied by other Russia observers, according to four people familiar with the session. Graham also sought meetings in the Senate.
Graham appeared to be trying to identify people who shared similar outlooks on Russia and had connections to the Trump transition, three of the people said.
Kissinger also has praised Trump's choice of Tillerson as the next secretary of state, dismissing worries that the ExxonMobil chief is too close to the Kremlin.
Kissinger Associates doesn't disclose its clients under U.S. lobbying laws.
The firm once threatened to sue Congress to resist a subpoena for its client list. It has in the past advised American Express, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola and Daewoo. But the firm does belong to the U.S.-Russia Business Council, a trade group that includes ExxonMobil, JPMorgan Chase and Pfizer.
A person familiar with the Trump team's national security planning warned against reading too much into the Trump-Kissinger relationship.
The president-elect, the person said,
That may be true when it comes to China, a frequent subject of Trump's ire, and the need to maintain a strong NATO, whose usefulness Trump has repeatedly questioned.
But Trump's desire for warmer ties with Russia has been one of the more consistent stances he's taken, and he could find alignment with Kissinger. POLITICO's attempts to reach Kissinger did not succeed this past week.
But despite his unsavory reputation among human rights advocates - who recite a litany of moral offenses from Vietnam to Bangladesh - presidents of both political parties have sought Kissinger's advice for the past 40 years, and he's been eager to oblige.
During the final years of the George W. Bush administration, as relations with Moscow were souring, Kissinger teamed up with Evgeny Primakov, the former Russian prime minister and head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to co-chair a working group focused on bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia.
Putin blessed the venture.
According to Kissinger, Bush, too, hoped the initiative would yield positive results, even assembling members of his national security team to learn about its work in 2008.
But the payoff was modest, at best:
When Barack Obama took over the presidency from Bush, he sought Kissinger's help on how to deal with Putin.
A 2009 meeting between Kissinger and Putin helped lay the groundwork for a new arms-control pact as part of Obama's effort to "reset" Russian relations.
But ultimately that reset failed as well, for reasons that include Putin's frustrations over U.S. support of NATO and European Union expansion, which he believed threatened Russian influence in countries such as Ukraine.
In a February speech honoring Primakov, who died last year, Kissinger sketched out his view of the way U.S.-Russian relations should work.
As for Ukraine, which lost its Crimea region to Russian annexation in 2014 and is still fighting Russian-backed separatists in its east, Kissinger argued that it shouldn't be invited to join the West outright.
In Syria, he likewise called for the U.S. to cooperate with Russia, which has used indiscriminate air power to help Assad crush rebel forces.
Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, noted that it's not yet clear how far Trump will go to accommodate Russia. The president-elect's pick for defense secretary is James Mattis, a retired Marine general who views Moscow as a major threat.
And Trump, who prides himself on his deal-making skills, may ultimately conclude that Russia has little to offer.
In an interview with CBS News that aired earlier this month, Kissinger spoke of both Trump and Putin in terms that suggested a sense of respect, if not necessarily awe.
Trump, Kissinger said,
Because of perceptions that Obama weakened America's influence abroad,
Putin, meanwhile, is a "character out of Dostoyevsky," Kissinger said, a reference to the 19th-century author who chronicled the often bleak lives of Russians in novels such as "Crime and Punishment" and "The Idiot."
The Kremlin took it as a compliment.