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Warren Christopher dies aged 85

Warren Christopher, a key figure in peace efforts in Bosnia and the Middle East as US secretary of state in the Clinton administration, has died, a spokeswoman for his law firm said. He was 85.

Mr Christopher died at his home in Los Angeles late on Friday of complications from bladder and kidney cancer, said Sonja Steptoe of the law firm O'Melveny & Myers, where he was a senior partner.

A loyal Democrat and meticulous lawyer, Mr Christopher also supervised the contested Florida recount for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. The Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, decided for George W Bush.

As he prepared to step down in 1996 as secretary "for someone else to pick up the baton", he said in an interview he was pleased to have played a role in making the United States safer.

His proudest accomplishments, he said, included a role in promoting a ban on nuclear weapons tests and extension of curbs on proliferation of weapons technology. He also tried to promote peace in the Middle East, tirelessly travelling to the region. Mr Christopher made some two dozen trips to Syria alone in a futile effort to promote a settlement with Israel.

He was more successful in the negotiations that produced a settlement in 1995 for Bosnia, ending a war among Muslims, Serbs and Croats that claimed 260,000 lives and drove another 1.8 million people from their homes.

Some critics said the administration had moved too slowly against the ethnic violence. Congressman Frank McCloskey, an Indiana Democrat, called for Mr Christopher's resignation and virtually accused the administration of ignoring genocide against Bosnian Muslims. A handful of State Department officials resigned in protest.

Mr Christopher also gave top priority to supporting reform in Russia and expanding US economic ties to Asia.

While he often preferred a behind-the-scenes role, he also made news as deputy secretary of state in the Carter administration, conducting the tedious negotiations that gained the release in 1981 of 52 American hostages in Iran.

President Jimmy Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award. "The best public servant I ever knew," the former president wrote in his memoirs.

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