DAYTON, OHIO — Harold H. Saunders, assistant secretary of state in the Carter administration and the recently retired director of international affairs at the Kettering Foundation, who spent more than 20 years in high foreign policy positions in the United States government, died on March 6, 2016, at his home in McLean, Va. He was 85.
The cause of death was prostate cancer.
“Hal Saunders served with distinction under six U.S. presidents and was a significant figure in America’s international affairs for more than 50 years. We were fortunate to have had his good counsel for much of that time,” David Mathews, Kettering Foundation president, said. “In addition, we will remember his interest in young people. He reached out to college students and built a network devoted to sustained dialogue, one of the primary themes of his work in recent years.”
“He tackled some of the greatest challenges of our times — protracted conflict, destructive relationships, weak governance, dysfunctional democracy and the need for a new world view,” Dr. Mathews continued.
After serving as a U.S. Air Force lieutenant and in the Central Intelligence Agency, Saunders joined the National Security Council staff in 1961 and served through the Johnson and Nixon administrations as the council’s Mideast expert, a period that saw the Six-Day War of June 1967, the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the Kissinger shuttles. He was appointed deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs in 1974, director of intelligence and research in 1975, and was appointed by President Carter to be assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs in 1978.
During his tenure as assistant secretary, Saunders was a principal architect of the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. In the early morning hours of November 4, 1979, a call was patched through to his home from Tehran, and over the next two hours he listened to the overrun of the American Embassy. For the next 444 days, Saunders worked tirelessly to free the American hostages, culminating in their release on January 20, 1981.
For his contributions to American diplomacy, Saunders received the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Service, the government’s highest award for civilian career officials, and the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award. After leaving government service in 1981, he was associated with the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution for 10 years before joining the Kettering Foundation as director of international Affairs. In 1981, he also became U.S. co-chair of the Task Force on Regional Conflicts for the Dartmouth Conference, the longest continuous dialogue between American and Soviet citizens.
Harold H. Saunders was born in Philadelphia on December 27, 1930, and attended Germantown Academy there. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in English and American Civilization and received a doctorate in American Studies from Yale University in 1956. He was president of his class at Princeton, later served on the Board of Trustees at Princeton and received the Class of 1952’s “Excellence in Career” award.
Over the past 35 years, Dr. Saunders developed and practiced the process of Sustained Dialogue, which he described as a “five-stage public peace process” to transform racial and ethnic conflicts. He was the author of four books, co-author of another and co-editor of still another, all dealing with issues of international peace.
In 1999 he wrote A Public Peace Process: Sustained Dialogue to Transform Racial and Ethnic Conflict. That experience led to his founding the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue (now the Sustained Dialogue Institute), which he served as chairman and president until his retirement on December 31, 2015. He is also the author of The Other Walls: The Arab-Israeli Peace Process in a Global Perspective (1985), Politics Is about Relationship: A Blueprint for the Citizens’ Century (2005), and Sustained Dialogue in Conflicts: Transformation and Change (2011).
Through IISD/SDI he moderated dialogues among citizens outside government, from the civil war in Tajikistan to deep tensions among Arabs, Europeans, and Americans and all factions in Iraq. More recently, he had been collaborating with established organizations in the U.S., South Africa, Israel and the Americas to embed sustained dialogue in their programs.
Dr. Saunders was the recipient of many awards. From Germantown Academy, he received its first Distinguished Achievement Award in 2002. He was given Search for Common Ground’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 and the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Annenberg Award for Excellence in Diplomacy in 2010.
He had served on the board for the Hollings Center, the executive committee of the Institute for East-West Security Studies and on the boards of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, Internews, and Partners for Democratic Change and had been a member of the International Negotiation Network at the Carter Presidential Center. He served on the governing council of the International Society of Political Psychology, which presented him the 1999 Nevitt Sanford Award for “distinguished professional contributions to political psychology.”
He taught international relationships and conflict resolution at George Mason University and at Johns Hopkins University’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Academy of Diplomacy and a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.
He was awarded honorary degrees of doctor of letters by New England College, doctor of international relations by Dickinson College, doctor of humane letters by the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and doctor of arts, letters, and Humanities by Susquehanna University. He was an elder in the Presbyterian Church and had participated in a Roman Catholic-Reformed Churches dialogue.
Dr. Saunders’ first wife, the former Barbara McGarrigle, died in 1973. He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Carol Jones Cruse Saunders, a son, Mark and daughter-in-law, Robin Stafford, daughter Catherine, a step-daughter, Caryn Hoadley, and her husband, Brad Wetstone, three grandchildren and two step-grandsons.
Burial is private. A memorial service will be held at a future date.
In his memory, contributions may be made to his Sustained Dialogue Institute:
444 North Capitol St. NW
Washington, D.C., 20001-1512.