Joseph J. Sisco

Joseph John Sisco (October 31, 1919 – November 23, 2004) was a diplomat who played a major role in then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East and whose career in the State Department spanned five presidential administrations and numerous foreign-policy crises.[1]

Early life

A Chicago native, Dr. Sisco was the son of Italian immigrants. His mother died when he was 9, and his father, a tailor, raised the five Sisco children in modest circumstances. He graduated from high school in 1937, briefly attended junior college and then transferred to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1941. He worked for a short time as a high school teacher and then joined the Army, where he served as a first lieutenant with the 41st Infantry Division in the Pacific. He was discharged in 1945. At the University of Chicago, he received a master's degree in 1947 and a doctorate in 1950, specializing in Soviet affairs. He became a Central Intelligence Agency officer in 1950 and joined the State Department the next year.

Diplomatic career

As a State Department negotiator, Sisco was involved in diplomatic hot spots that included Syria's invasion of Jordan in 1970, the India-Pakistan war in 1971, and Egypt and Israel's peace negotiations in 1974.

From 1951 to 1965, he served as a foreign affairs officer, specializing in issues involving the United Nations and other international organizations. In 1965, Secretary of State Dean Rusk appointed Sisco assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs.

His deep involvement in Middle East diplomacy began at about the time Arthur J. Goldberg succeeded Adlai Stevenson as ambassador to the United Nations. Because Rusk was devoting much of his time to Vietnam, Goldberg was, in essence, in charge of U.S. policy in the Middle East during and after the Six-Day War in June 1967. Dr. Sisco worked closely with Goldberg until the U.N. ambassador left government service in the spring of 1968. Sisco became the chief U.S. mediator in the Middle East.

On January 30, 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed him assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs. Later that year, his policy paper on the Middle East became the basis for the president's Middle East policy. Dr. Sisco's strategy involved containing the Soviet Union's growing influence in the Middle East, convincing the Arab states that the Nixon administration was being evenhanded and coaxing Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab territory. Although the approach did not work as planned, it eventually led to a fragile cease-fire along the Suez Canal, beginning on August 7, 1970, with Jordan, Egypt and Israel agreeing to stop shooting.

In July 1974, as Kissinger's chief deputy, Undersecretary of state for political affairs, he was dispatched to seek a solution to the Cyprus crisis that erupted after a Greek-inspired coup deposing the country's president, Archbishop Makarios, triggered a Turkish invasion five days later. Shuttling between Athens and Ankara, he helped tamp down war rumblings between the two countries.

Private sector career

In 1976, Sisco left government service and became president of American University. During his time there, he worked to elevate undergraduate admission standards and oversaw the construction of a long-delayed library and athletics arena, but it was not a particularly happy phase of his professional life. Trustees and faculty members questioned the amount of time he spent on AU affairs, as well as his lucrative speaking fees and board memberships. He resigned in 1980, saying he was "absolutely fed up with fundraising."

In June 1980, he joined CNN as a columnist, appearing occasionally on air as an expert on Middle Eastern and Asian affairs.

In 1981, he launched what he called his "third career," becoming a partner of Sisco Associates, an international management and consulting firm that his wife, Jean Head Sisco, founded two years earlier. Dr. Sisco specialized in political and economic risk analysis for U.S. and foreign companies. He also wrote op-ed pieces and journal articles, made TV appearances and lectured. He continued to speak out on foreign policy issues until a few weeks before his death.

Personal life

Sisco's wife, Jean Head Sisco, whom he married in 1946 while they were students at the University of Chicago, died in 2000.


External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Harlan Cleveland
Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs
September 1, 1965 – February 9, 1969
Succeeded by
Samuel De Palma
Preceded by
Parker T. Hart
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
February 10, 1969 – February 18, 1974
Succeeded by
Alfred Atherton
Academic offices
Preceded by
George H. Williams
President, American University
Succeeded by
Richard E. Berendzen
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