The Trials of Henry Kissinger ; Once He Was Arguably the World's Most Powerful Man. Now His Foes Think They've Got Him on the Run. on the Eve of a Controversial Scheduled Visit to Britain, RUPERT CORNWELL Wonders If Time Is Running out for the Former Eminence Grise of US Foreign Policy

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At 78, in the fullness of his wisdom and his years, life should be set fair for the most famous secretary of state in US history. Henry Kissinger may no longer run American foreign policy. But in these troubled international times, sages are in particular demand. And where sagacity in foreign policy is concerned, the star attraction of Kissinger Associates, perched in its discreet skyscraper suite on New York's Park Avenue, yields to absolutely no one.

Tomorrow (barring last-minute cancellations after this article has gone to press), Henry Kissinger is due to address the annual conference of the Institute of Directors in the Royal Albert Hall, an occasion described by the IoD as "the most prestigious event in the UK corporate calendar". Those fortunate enough to be present will be able to listen to "one of the world's most respected individuals".

But even the most respected individuals have a past - and that of Kissinger is coming back to haunt him with a vengeance. Not the glorious chapters, when he managed the Cold War and played off China against the Soviet Union, but the dirty little history of the Nixon/ Kissinger administration's dealings in Latin America. Measured against nuclear arms reductions and the balance of global power, it was nothing, a grubby little pile of fetid laundry in America's backyard. But a quarter of a century on, the unrequited demands for justice threaten to destroy a vain old man's most precious asset: his reputation.

If Kissinger goes through with the engagement (as it appears he will at the time of writing), most of the assembled businessmen will notice little difference. True, the crinkly hair has turned white, and the face is a little wizened. He seems slightly shrivelled and stooped after a heart attack some 18 months ago, which obliged him to lose 25lbs on doctor's orders. But there are precious few other acknowledgements of human frailty. Kissinger still speaks with that ridiculous German accent. The tones are slow, guttural and as apparently immune to self-doubt as ever.

He wears the same square, dark-rimmed glasses shielding eyes that seem not to move, yet which miss nothing. The instinctive theatrical sense and that ponderously perfect timing that can hold an audience in thrall are undiminished. But just possibly, the most discerning Kissinger-watchers in the hall may notice something different - a slight uneasiness, a sense that accumulated glory may be no protection from what may yet come.

For one small inconvenience weighs upon what should be a routine $25,000, or pounds 17,000 (plus expenses) canter around the lecture circuit. While Kissinger is on British soil, judicial investigators from France and Spain are seeking permission to question the distinguished keynote speaker about Operation Condor, a cross- border conspiracy of secret-service murder, torture and kidnappings orchestrated by Latin American dictators in the 1970s.

The name of the Spanish judge will come as no surprise. He is Baltazar Garzon, the magistrate who in 1998 sought the extradition from Britain of General Augusto Pinochet to answer charges that the old dictator ordered the murder of Spanish citizens, among the estimated 4,000 people who either disappeared or were killed after the September 1973 coup that toppled the elected civilian president Salvador Allende. The extradition request was finally denied by the Law Lords on the technical ground that the Chilean dictator, who by then had suffered at least one heart attack, was too old to face trial. But Garzon is no respecter of persons, and his tenacity is legendary. Pinochet was the prime mover behind Operation Condor - which, in addition to Chile, also covered Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay. Meanwhile, declassified documents released by the State Department and the CIA since his detention have strengthened suspicions that Kissinger, as Nixon's national security adviser and in effective full control of US foreign policy, was well aware of what was happening. …