WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama praised longtime diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who died Monday at a Washington hospital, as a "true giant of American foreign policy."
Holbrooke, who was 69, died at George Washington University Hospital following two operations -- including one lasting more than 20 hours to repair a torn aorta -- after he became ill Friday during a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Holbrooke, Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, underwent a second surgical procedure Sunday to improve circulation to his legs, Politico reported online Sunday.
"(First lady) Michelle (Obama) and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Richard Holbrooke, a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer, and more respected," the president said in a statement issued by the White House. "He was a truly unique figure who will be remembered for his tireless diplomacy, love of country, and pursuit of peace."
The president said progress the United States has made "in Afghanistan and Pakistan is due in no small measure to Richard's relentless focus on America's national interest, and pursuit of peace and security."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley had issued a statement Sunday night saying Holbrooke was "surrounded by his family, friends, colleagues and staff" at the hospital.
Crowley said Holbrooke's wife, Kati Marton, received calls from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.
"His family is grateful for the outpouring of support and prayers coming in from his many friends, colleagues and leaders around the world," Crowley said.
Several officials and deputies visited Holbrooke, including Clinton, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, and members of Holbrooke's policy team, including deputies Frank Ruggiero and Dan Feldman, who were with Holbrooke in an ambulance Friday.
Officials from several agencies attended a meeting at the White House during the weekend to discuss the pending Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review, expected to be released next week, Politico said. How Holbrooke's hospitalization and death will affect the review and release remained unclear.