Walter Scheel, who helped shape West Germany's policy of reconciliation with the communist bloc as foreign minister and later served as his country's president, has died, his party says. He was 97.

The president's office told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper Scheel died Wednesday after a long illness. Scheel's Free Democratic Party confirmed the death.

Born July 8, 1919, in Solingen, Scheel trained as a bank clerk before being drafted into Nazi Germany's air force during World War II.

After the war, he rose to become a leading figure in the FDP, the kingmaker in West German politics.

He served in many posts, including foreign minister and briefly as acting chancellor in 1974. Lawmakers that year elected Scheel as West German president, a job he held for five years.