WASHINGTON — John Gunther Dean, a veteran American diplomat and five-time ambassador forever haunted by his role in the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia during the dying days of the Khmer Republic, has died. He was 93.
Dean, who later in his career fell out with the Washington foreign policy establishment over U.S. policy toward Israel and was forced to retire in the late 1980s, died June 6, his wife, Martine, and children announced in an online obituary.
The U.S. Embassy in India, Dean’s last post where he served as ambassador from 1985-89, confirmed his death in a tweet mourning his passing. “He was a skilled diplomat that championed strong US-India relations,” it said. “Rest in peace and you will be forever missed.”
Although Dean served as ambassador to Denmark, Lebanon, Thailand and India, he was perhaps best known for his 1974-75 tour as the top U.S. diplomat in Cambodia. Dean oversaw the evacuation of the embassy in Phnom Penh as the capital fell to the Khmer Rouge, trying desperately to secure passage out of the city for Cambodian officials and others who had battled against the communist insurgents even after the U.S. ended military assistance to the embattled government.
“We’d accepted responsibility for Cambodia and then walked out without fulfilling our promise,” Dean said in a 2015 interview to mark the 40th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh. “That’s the worst thing a country can do. And I cried because I knew what was going to happen.”
Many of those who could not get out, including one senior official who rebuffed Dean’s offer of escape, were killed in the months and years during the Khmer Rouge’s time in power memorialized in the Academy Award-winning film “The Killing Fields.”
“I failed,” he told The Associated Press in the 2015 interview, which was conducted from his home in Paris, where he lived throughout most of his retirement. “I tried so hard. I took as many people as I could, hundreds of them, I took them out, but I couldn’t take the whole nation out.”