Paul H. Nitze (search), a senior arms control adviser in the Reagan administration who served in various national security roles under eight presidents, is dead at 97.

Reports of his death late Tuesday were confirmed by the Navy Department, which Nitze once headed.

His long career, which began with success on Wall Street as a young investment banker, was capped last April in Bath, Maine, where Nitze witnessed from a wheelchair the christening of a warship bearing his name. He smiled broadly as his wife swung a champagne bottle against the destroyer's bow to the cheers of hundreds of onlookers. A band then broke into "Anchors Aweigh" and red, white and blue streamers and confetti shot into the air.

The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (search in Washington was founded in 1943 by Nitze and the late former Secretary of State Christian Herter (search). Nitze was unable to attend the school's annual banquet last week, at which Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke in tribute to his long government service.

In 1957, Nitze conceived the idea of attaching a "think tank" to the school, which is now called the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute. Three years later he helped Johns Hopkins University raise money for the SAIS building near DuPont Circle here, which was named for Nitze and his first wife, Phyllis Pratt Nitze, in 1986.

Then, two years later, he offered to match any amount raised by SAIS to expand the school. The goal was reached in 1989, doubling the school's space with another building.

Nitze, a conservative Democrat, was a natural fit for Ronald Reagan's administration because they both opposed President Jimmy Carter's 1979 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) with the Soviet Union.

Along with a handful of other prominent conservative Democrats, organized as the Committee on the Present Danger (search), they swung to Reagan as the Republican president made major inroads among Democrats who were convinced their party had drifted leftward.

Nitze had headed the policy planning office of the State Department in the Truman administration and took charge of negotiating reductions in intermediate range missiles with the Soviet Union in 1981 for Reagan, who had changed directions to support arms control accords.

The negotiations were marked by a "walk in the woods" near Vienna with the Soviet negotiator, Yuli Kvitsinsky, that produced a breakthrough but the treaty was not concluded at the time.

Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution (search) and author of a biography of Nitze in 1988, said he was "an extraordinary and influential figure over a long period of time."

"It was all the more remarkable because he operated at a level below the Cabinet and had a cumulative impact way beyond those who were secretary of state and secretary of defense," Talbott said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Nitze "could be ferocious as an opponent on the outside when he was not in the government," said Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration.