Jeane Kirkpatrick, who died on Thursday at the age of 80, was the first woman ever to become US ambassador to the United Nations and was considered an icon by the neoconservative movement that came to dominate US foreign policy during the current Bush administration.

She also earned a degree of enmity across the Atlantic for her open sympathy, shared by then secretary of state Alexander Haig, with Argentina during the 1982 Falkland Islands war with Britain. She felt that anti-communist regimes, such as the Buenos Aires junta headed by General Leopold Galtieri, deserved support whenever possible.

Hers was a classic voyage from left to right across the American political spectrum. Born in Duncan, Oklahoma, on November 19 1926, the daughter of an oilfield wildcatter, she went to Barnard College in New York and was an early activist for the youth division of the Socialist Party of America, as befitting a family tradition. She ultimately received her doctorate in political science from Columbia in 1968 and joined the faculty at Georgetown University in the nation’s capital. She also earned a considerable reputation in liberal circles as a feminist writer somewhat ahead of her time, including publication of books such as Political Woman in 1974. Consistent with her then political views, she was a staunch supporter of the several campaigns of the former vice president and Minnesota senator, Hubert Humphrey, and was as a delegate at the Democratic convention of 1976.

But she became disillusioned with what she saw as the weak foreign policies of President Jimmy Carter and became a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, an influential pressure group in the 1970s exercised by the Soviet threat and which served as an incubator for neo-conservatism.

In the 1980 campaign she was as an advisor to Ronald Reagan, who rewarded her with the UN ambassadorship the following year and also, unusually, gave her a seat on the National Security Council, where she was an early supporter of the scheme later known as Iran-Contra. She held both posts until 1985 (she did not, however, formally leave the Democratic Party until that year).

Her tenure at the UN was abrasive and, always outspoken, she freely confessed she detested the organisation. But her attacks on assorted authoritarian regimes and her staunch anti-communism earned her the admiration of Mr Reagan, though not always his second secretary of state, George Shultz. Still, she was frequently touted for higher office, including head of the NSC, which Mr Shultz blocked.

But her performance at the 1984 Republican convention, where she accused Democrats of being the “blame America first” party, increased her standing with conservatives. She contemplated running for president herself in 1987 but decided not to because she feared she would split the conservative movement and pave the way for the election of George H. W. Bush, whom she did not admire but who won anyway.

She married Evron Kirkpatrick, also a political scientist, in 1955. He died 30 years later. They had three sons, two of whom survive her.

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