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Tuesday, 6 May 2008

THE IRAN HOSTAGE CRISIS 1979-1981

By: Ahmad Syah Ejaz Bin Hj. Ismail
[This article concentrates more on the diplomatic decision of both sides in ending the crisis. As what was refered by my mentor Dato' Mokhtar, it emphasize on the "tick and tack" of the negotiations held by both sides (US and Iran). I owed much of the facts written in this article to Mark Bowden's book title "Guest of the Ayatollah - The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam". Mark Bowden book's was the best book on the Crisis that I have read so far and it is must read book for those that wants to learn more about Iran and its internal contradictions]

INTRODUCTION

Iran was in the state of turmoil in 1979, and most of its legal institutions had collapsed under the [1]shah rule after taking over the government backed up by the CIA engineered coup de’etat in 1953. The coup had resulted in toppling the democratic elected [2]Mohammad Mosaddeq. The operation to topple Mossadeq known by Americans as the Operation Ajax and regarded by the Iranian as a stark evidence of U.S. meddling into the Third World Countries internal affairs.

At first the coup had been supported and welcomed by most of the Iranian seeing such move as a bold solution for them to end their poverty stricken problems and moved towards more pragmatic and develop nations. Unfortunately under the shah, the situation became much worse and the shah begins to use [3]SAVAK to suppress any political dissent among the Iranians.

By the mid-1970s more than 40 percent of its people were undernourished. The shah relied more on SAVAK to root out and smash rebellion, which spread discontent and turned it into hatred. Dissident mullahs such as the Ayatollah Khomeini, too popular to imprison or kill, were exiled.

The takeover of the U.S. Embassy on November 4, 1979 was engineered by the student’s leaders which claimed to be “The Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line”. They were out to build a new world, a utopia, based on Islamic precepts and [4]Ali Shariati interpretation of Islamic revolution. Their vision of Iran revolution borrowed from both sides of the Cold War where they would blend American democracy with a Soviet-style state run economy, a system they believed to be both revolutionary and ancient. The students try to strive toward the formation of [5]umma.

PRELUDE TO THE TAKEOVER

The takeover was the brainchild of three young men, Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, an engineering student from Sanati Sharif University, Mohsen Mirdamadi from Amir Kabir University, and Habibullah Bitaraf from Technical University. [6]Asgharzadeh was the first to suggest it. They would occupy the embassy for three days, and from it issue a series of communiqués that would explain Iran’s grievances against America.

The [7]mullah’s ideas about Iran and the world had merged with the naïve idealism of students like these over the previous years to create a simple powerful vision. The banned writings of Ali Shariati had been circulating underground on Iran’s campuses, firing the imagination and national pride of students who dreamed of crating a new kind of Iranian state and of seizing centre stage in the dreamy “revolution” of world youth that was raging in America and Europe. Shariati had embraced the leftist rhetoric of the era without endorsing the Soviet Union and regarded capitalism as a root of evil and wrote about Islamic path toward utopia, one that was neither Communist nor Capitalists but founded on “authentic”, divine principles.

The students during the previous week at Amir Kabir University had divided up the work into six committees: Documents, Operations, Public Relations, Logistics, Hostage Control, and Information. They scrounge about four hundred students to carry out the assault and thousands more to rally in support outside the embassy walls while others worked on organizing mass demonstrations in support of the siege on the streets around the embassy.

The students had also secured the support of the Revolutionary Guards through [8]Mohsen Razee. With the quiet backing of both the police and the Revolutionary Guards, the students were confident that no authority would chase them from the grounds before they had a chance to seize the Americans and make to issue any statement.

AMERICAN RESPONSE

President Jimmy Carter was awakened at Camp David by a call from [9] Zbigniew Brzezinski. It was four thirty in the morning. Brezezinski was optimistic considering that so far none of the hostages had been shot which according to him was a good sign, because such actions were usually the most violent in the first hours.

The students had prepared a communiqué, which was read over the phone to the local radio station. It reflected the full idealistic and naïve sweep of the students’ intentions, which were nothing less than to ignite a world-wide spiritual uprising of the virtuous oppressed masses.

The students believe that the embassy was actually a CIA spy den. To get the support of the popular mullah, the students regarded themselves as “Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line,” and understood that they were religious and more aligned with the mullahs than the leftist, who predominated on the college campuses. Khomeini even though do not support the students action, later realized that even though the siege was a nuisance, it was in fact an opportunity for him to emboldened his influence.

CRISIS MANAGEMENT OF THE US CAMP

In 1979, the Machiavellian style of the Nixon-Kissinger years was out, and left was the simple decency of Jimmy Carter’s born-again Christian faith. The new president bent the long standing priority of containing Communism, which had for decades justified America support and alliance with all manner of tyranny, to accommodate a stronger emphasis on human rights. Most recently and notably, he had withdrawn vital American support for Nicaragua dictator Anastasio Somoza and, after he was chased from power, backed by millions in aid to the leftist Sandinistas.

In 1953, [10]Kermit Roosevelt orchestrated street demonstrations and campaign of false stories in the Iranian press against Mossadeq, and systematically bought off military leaders, who arrested the prime minister on trumped-up charges of treason. Mossadeq later was convicted and after three-year term in prison remained under house arrest until his death in 1967. During the days of the actual coup, the shah fled to Rome with his wife until it was safe to return-“to avoid bloodshed,” he said, most conspicuously his own. Adorning himself as the “Lights of the Aryans” and with pomp befitting a position known historically as the “Peacock Throne”.

The frightening potential for an all-out nuclear war, however, is what first occurred to [11]Hamilton Jordan when he heard the news of the embassy takeover. If it meant the United States would be going to war against Iran, how would Moscow react? Where would that lead?

National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski presented a measured assessment of the crisis at a meeting with the president and vice president later that morning, and chaired the first session of a newly constituted Special Coordinating Committee, formed to deal with the situation in Tehran. CIA was lack of resources and access in Iran; the most reliable information was coming from the news reports, as there was a significant international news presence in Tehran. Because they didn’t know for sure what was going on, all agreed that [12]caution in public statements would be wise.

The committee decided to send two special emissaries to Tehran immediately to explore a resolution and resolved to ask two prominent Americans who might be viewed favourably by the revolutionary powers there: former U.S. Attorney general [13]Ramsey Clark and [14]William Miller, staff director for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

After deciding on emissaries, Brezinski’s committee took up other options. What impact might it have on international oil supplies? Iran was responsible for only about 4 percent of the oil imported to the United States, a percentage that could be readily made up from other sources, so there wasn’t much concern that the incidents would return the nation to gas lines and rationing. What counter steps might the government take against Iranian diplomats and the thousands of Iranians living in the United States? What punitive measures might be taken? How feasible was a rescue attempt? To address this last question, a special group consisting of Turner and joint chiefs’ chairman General David Jones met with Brezinski afterward in his office. They agreed to set up a planning group immediately to figure out what, if anything the military could do.

[15]Henry Precht was asked to draft a letter from President Carter to Khomeini, something that could be hand-delivered by Clark and Miller. The letter would get a stern reworking by Brezinski, but remained a remarkably restrained document. It contained neither nether threats nor concessions which stated that America wished to reopen a dialogue with Iran and to restore friendly ties. But however the shah would stay in the United States until his treatment was finished but there were assurances that the stay would be temporary. To offset any suspicion that shah had been admitted for reasons other than medical, Iranian authorities were offered access to doctors treating him. The independence and territorial integrity of Iran were acknowledged, and mutually beneficial possibility of re-establishing a military supply relationship was mentioned.

Clark and Miller were later invited to the White House, and indirect contacts with [16]Ayatollah Mohammed Behesti, indicated that if these two men came as Carter’s personal [17]emissaries they would be politely received.

The mission was supposed to remain top secret, but [18]Richard Valeriani, who covered the State Department for NBC, found out about the diplomatic mission. On the hunch that the White House would be sending an emissary to Iran, he called up the office and pretended to know there was a mission afoot. Carter then told him “If you run the story tonight, it will make it look like we are putting pressure on them. It could kill the mission.” NBC agreed to sit on the story, but not for long.

MILITARY OPTION

Two days after the embassy takeover, General David Jones, chairman of the joint chiefs, and the rest of the Pentagon brass met in the [19]Tank. A twelve man team had been working around the clock for two days, sketching out a reckless thrust that, if necessary, could be attempted immediately.

THE FAILURE OF THE FIRST NEGOTIATION ATTEMPT

At a second meeting of the National Security Council, General Jones presented the rescue option he had heard from [20]Major Lewis H. Burruss with his own pessimistic assessment of its chances. Ramsey Clark and William Miller flew from Washington to Greece, and then to Turkey awaiting permission to enter Iran and deliver the letter crafted so carefully by Precht and White House officials. Their mission stalled there, as they waited for conformation that they would be welcomed in Tehran. NBC’s Richard Valeriani, who had been sitting on the story, finally aired it on the Today show after the State Department relented.

The network had cameras pointed at the stalled plane in Turkey, where it sat and sat. Finally official word came from Tehran that the emissaries would not be allowed into the country. To make matter worse, the students issued a statement promising to execute the hostages if America made an effort to free them. There seemed to be no one in Iran willing to negotiate. There was however a report saying that an effort at meditation by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was reportedly underway, but it too had yielded no results.

After the failure of the Clark & Miller negotiation attempt, there seemed to be no way for Washington to establish a dialogue with Iran. The crisis then worsened with a round of spiteful gestures. Carter froze six billion dollars of Iranian assets and suspended oil imports from Iran. The crisis was at a complete impasse.

THE FIRST HOSTAGES RELEASE

In a sudden move, on November 19 and 20, 1979, Khomeini had ordered the released of thirteen women and African-American and as a demonstration of the “special status” accorded to women under Islamic rule. The students had high hopes for this gesture. They had long believed that black Americans would identify with their struggle and take to the streets all over the United States in support; they felt sure this release would help spur such demonstrations.

Brezinski later advocated a series of steps that would gradually tighten a noose around Iran which only to encounter resistance from within the administration at every turn. Brezinski proposed an immediate naval blockade on Iran, shutting down all of its imports and exports, a move that would relied in Iranian oil. It was opposed by the State Department, which felt it would do more to harm American alliances than to end the crisis.

Over the concerns of the Justice Department, Carter ordered most Iranian diplomats to leave, began deportation proceedings against all Iranian in the United States illegally, and banned oil purchases from Iran. He also froze the billions in Iranian assets in American banks.

OPTIONS FOR DIPLOMATIC SOLUTIONS

[21]Cyrus Vance urged the president to get shah out of the country, something the dethroned monarch had graciously volunteered to do already. Brezinski counselled the President that such a move amounted to pure capitulation. Carter was in the middle of a re-election campaign. Carter was determined not to let his hopes for re-election dictate his handling of the crisis, and no matter how it played politically he trod a careful line between his two advisers.

There was no way to initiate a dialogue and the crisis was at a complete impasse. Carter’s anger was kept under tight rein in public, but it showed in private. He ordered the military to draw up detailed plans for air strikes against Iran if and when the hostages were released. Brezinski played out the scenario in his head: Iran would certainly retaliate by giving the hostages show trials and executing some of them. Apart from the appalling personal tragedy that would entail, it would compel an even no aggressive American response, which might bring the Soviets in on the side of the Iranians and lead to an uncontrollable conflict. No mater how much America cared about hostages, their fate was not worth the risk of an out nuclear exchange. The dilemma centred on one of the most basic Gordian questions of democratic society: Which was more important, the individual or the state? The only sensible option was to wait and see if somebody in Tehran was willing to talk.

THE FIRST NEGOTIATION

The Soviet Union’s [22]invasion of Afghanistan had spark another window of needs for another negotiation between Iran and U.S. Afghanistan shared Iran’s eastern border and with the prospects of Soviet clouds on Iran’s eastern border there was needs for Iran to seek superpowers help. There had been fears of Iran’s clerics cozying up to the Soviets in the previous weeks, but they would certainly respond with alarm to Soviet aggression on Afghanistan as an assault to Islam. Plus the ethnic unrest in provinces along the Soviet border to its north, and with mounting military probes by the Soviet-backed regime of Saddam Hussein to their West, Iran’s world of trouble had just grown from bad to worse.

The other significant event was the arrival of two men, [23]Hector Villalon and [24]Christian Bourget at the international airport in Panama City. They had flown there to deliver a formal request from Iran to [25]Omar Torrijos, asking his government to extradite the shah back to Tehran to face revolutionary justice. Torrijos was not about to send the shah back to Tehran, but that was the visitors’ only announced purpose. What they told [26]Marcel Saliman, was something else. They knew there was no chance Panama would return the ailing shah back to Tehran, but the formalities might serve as a pretext to cover secret negotiations to free the American hostages. Iran was ready to talk again. Hamilton Jordan later was contacted by an old friend in Panama, who urged him to meet [27]privately and soon with an aide to Panama’s dictator Torrijos. When the negotiations failed due to Panama decision to turn down the extradition of shah to Iran, Carter then turned his efforts to diplomatic solution by addressing the crisis to the United Nations, by mounting a full-court diplomatic press on Iran. Secretary-General [28]Kurt Waldheim had agreed to personally intervene, and with the prospect of draconian economic sanctions in the balance Iran would succumbed to the weight of world opinion.

Iran was facing a threat on its eastern border where Soviet forces could easily push into Iran and grab the rich [29]oil fields of the Persian Gulf. Without American usual back up, Iran’s future was at the mercy of Soviet decision. After Carter UN move, Iran was at the prospect of punitive sanctions. Waldheim on the other hand argued to Carter that sanctions would only strengthen Iranian resolve. When Khomeini threatened to cut off oil exports to any nation that voted for sanctions, oil dependent Japan quaked while the Soviet Union then twice vetoed the measure at the UN Security Council.

When Carter proposed an economic boycott outside the auspices of the UN, Carter was met with a cool reception. European nations found one reason after another to back away from holding Iran accountable. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the captive American foreign mission was expandable for their oil supply.

SECOND NEGOTIATION IN LONDON

Jordan was in London hotel room meeting again with Villalon, who explained how the embassy seizure had strengthened the hand of religious extremist in Iran against the moderate, democratic elements, who eager to see it ended.

The moderates in Iran were in any event, willing to talk. But before considering a release of the hostages, they were demanding an international commission to study the crimes of the shah. Carter had already said that he would not oppose such a commission, but only after the hostages were released. If he was to back off that position and allow the UN commission to visit Iran and met with government officials, the student captors, and the hostages, there was a chance that the situation might improve.

The meeting ended with an agreement to continue talking. Bourget impressed Jordan with his access to [30]Ghotbzadeh by picking up the phone in the hotel room and promptly getting the Iranian foreign minister on the line. The French lawyer tried to convince Ghotbzadeh to speak to Jordan, but the embattled Iranian declined. Talking directly to American officials had become a dangerously business in Iran.

The first session with [31]Villalon and Bourget in London had been disappointing, but Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, eager for any avenue to resolve the crisis diplomatically Jordan to pursue it further. He gave the two visitors a tour, and to bolster their own credentials when they gave Jordan the [32]tape recording of Waldheim’s abject presentation to the Revolutionary Council.

Then the two secret emissaries delivered the good news. They said that Iran’s governing council had authorized Ghotbzadeh to begin negotiations over the hostages which was an important step because it indicated that Iran’s government appeared ready to assert its authority over the student hostage takers. It hardly guaranteed a solution, because if the country disapproved of whatever agreement they worked out, it could easily claim the foreign minister had acted on his own account. Ghotbzadeh was sticking his neck out, and in post revolutionary Iran there was no shortage of people willing to chop off his head.

That conversation led to discussions that went on for several days between Villalon and Bourget, and Jordan and [33]Hal Saunders. The two emissaries outline a road map for the hostages to be release. The one thing Waldheim had brought home from Iran was a promise by the Revolutionary Council to look kindly on the creation of a UN Commission that was to study Iran’s grievances against America.

The second day’s session was lasted twelve hours. The two emissaries hammered out a detailed schedule which includes details plans for the hostages’ freedom. Jordan remained sanguine about the plan but when news broke a few days later that six of the American embassy workers who had been hidden by the Canadian mission in Tehran since the day of the takeover, had been spirited out of Iran, the prospects ends when the news of the escape was received with dismay by the Iranians.

CARTER’S POLITICAL PLAY

With the secret process in place to secure the hostages’ release, Carter begins to change his tone about the crisis. There was no more talk of sanctions, blockades, and punitive strikes, and instead came reminders of shared interests, particularly of the danger posed by the Soviet armies just over the border. Carter suggested that retribution was unlikely if the hostages were returned unharmed, but warned that “our patience is not unlimited.”

The students start to realize the true situation in hand. They believed they had backed themselves into a corner by demanding the shah’s return; a condition they had never seriously expected would be met. Now even if they had wanted to back down they could not, because their continued occupation of the US embassy gave leverage to hard line clerical elements opposed to the government. With their hostages, the students had become pawns in the battle over the future of Iran.

In keeping with the secret protocol, Carter announced on February 13 that he would support the creation of UN commission to study the crimes of the shah, and announced at the same time that there were “positive signs” about the hostage standoff. In Tehran, Ayatollah Mohammed [34]Behesti, declared that the crisis would be resolved soon, and Secretary General Waldheim, after announcing formation of a five man [35]commission, told reporters that he had received “general assurances” that the hostages would be released soon after the group met.

Despite a unanimous ruling from the Revolutionary Council and the public backing of Ghotbzadeh and [36]Bani Sadr for the UN Commission, the students reject the motion after being emboldened by Khomeini’s speech that claimed the commission was the linchpin of a plot to release the hostages, and later the students refused to allow the UN Commission to meet with the captive Americans.

Finally, the commission gave up its efforts to see the hostages, suspended its inquiry, and flew home. The deal had fallen through. On March 23, the ailing shah flew from Panama to Egypt, despite administration efforts to prevent it. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt had offered the shah permanent sanctuary. The official reason for the move was that he needed surgery to remove a cancerous spleen.

THE FAILURE OF THE SECOND NEGOTIATION

According to [37]Reagan, the Iranian had sliced the salami yet again. A pattern had developed where Carter would latch on to a deal proffered by a top Iranian official and grant him minor by humiliating concessions, only to have it scotched at the last minute by Khomeini.

President Carter’s crackdown in the first week of April had proved nothing more than his futility. The break in diplomatic ties was dramatic but clearly overdue, and a decision to cancel all entry visas for Iranians was perceived as primarily symbolic, because most such travel had come to a halt anyway. His call for allies to break ties and join in a trade embargo succeeded only in exposing a distressing lack of unanimity: England’s response was lukewarm; Canada promised to consult with other nations first; Japan said it would “carefully study’ the idea; West Germany declined outright; Denmark announced it was “hesitant” to break ties; Italy called such punitive steps “a mistake”. All of these nations, of course, publicly deplored the taking of hostages but none decided to join the United States in pressuring Iran for their release. The pressure to use America’s military strength was becoming inexorable and the country braced for war with Iran. [Mark Bowden, 2007]

THE RESCUE OPTION

The rescue option had been regarded as a last resort, a drastic steps to be avoided, and all the efforts the White House had made since the embassy takeover were toward that end, but as the president launched into a list of detailed questions about how it was to be done, his aides knew he had mentally crossed into new and dangerous territory.

In order to maintain appearances, Carter sent Jordan back to Paris for a scheduled second meeting with Ghotbzadeh at Hector Vilalon’s apartment. The Iranian foreign minister was deflated and complained that the White House decision to break diplomatic ties had been a tragic mistake that would drive Iran into the arms of the Soviets.

The in mid-April, Carter announced a ban on travel to Iran. Without putting it in so many words, the decision was meant primarily to encourage Americans news organization to bring their reporters home, mindful of Vance’s worry about what might happen in the aftermath of a rescue attempt. Carter could not order reporters [38]out of Iran without provoking a showdown over freedom of press.

FAILURE OF THE RESCUE MISSION

[39]Operation Eagle Claw was launched on April 24, 1980, but due to the sand storm in Iran lead to the helicopter mechanical failure and aircraft accident. The failure of the operation cost the U.S. eight of its marines and a public humiliation especially to the Iranian.

On the day after the failed rescue mission most of the hostages were moved from the embassy and scattered around Iran. Most of the Americans heartily approved of the rescue attempt, and were saddened and disappointed by its failure, but they did not condemn the president. By August the crisis had faded almost completely away. Even the [40]death of shah in Cairo failed to produce the slightest change in the standoff.

IRAN-IRAQ WAR

Saddam Hussein had become increasingly belligerent along its western border and just weeks before had executed a revered Shia leader. Ever since, Iran had been both mourning and girding for war. [41]Ali Khamenei begin to question if the hostages were release, were American ready to supply the Iranian with F4 Phantom aircraft spare parts? The hostages were later put in Tehran prison cells.

Iraq’s invasion of Iran was a direct consequence of Khomeini’s revolution and of the embassy seizure and it would take a horrendous toll on both nations over the next eight years. Two weeks before the bombs started falling, [42]Sadegh Tabatabai, had initiated secret talks with the United States to resolve the crisis. Iran was desperately in need for the parts of their American made jets.

Tabatabai claims to be the friend with [43]Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and that through him he could arrange for private talks at the highest level of the American government. It was critical that the talks remain secrets, because any public move toward an agreement with America would trigger the wrath of Iran’s religious conservatives and could bring down catastrophic reprisals. Only someone with connections like Tabatabai’s would dare to initiate such discussions and even he himself was frightened.

THE THIRD NEGOTIATION

Carter dispatched [44]Warren Christopher to meet secretly with Tabatabai in Bonn at Schloss Gymnich, a private palace owned by the West German Foreign Ministry. Tabatabai spoke to Christopher through a German translator because he had not [45]dared bring a Farsi interpreter with him from the Foreign Ministry in Tehran. Tabatabai was particularly interested in opening the gates for spare military parts and wanted that to be part of the deal. Over the next two days they hammered out an agreement to end the crisis, one that met all the new demands save one. It was agreed that the United States would not be issuing an apology and both men agreed to take the proposals home for approval.

FAILURE OF THE THIRD NEGOTIATION

Saddam’s war on Iran crushed Tabatabai’s negotiation initiative. Iranian officialdom immediately blamed Iraq’s aggression on the United States. For nearly a month, the Carter White House waited for word from Tabatabai but there was none. It started to look as if the hostages would have to wait out this war.

After the secret meeting in the Majlis, [46]Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had made good on his guarantee, winning a 100-80 vote in support of the agreement despite last minute minority efforts to scuttle it by walking out. Iran’s desperate need for hundred million of dollars worth of military contracts the country had purchased before the embassy seizure.

There were complex legal issues involved. Probably the most difficult conditions were the requests that Iranian assets be unfrozen and that legal claims against the country be dropped. There were about $10 billion in assets at stake, which included securities, gold deposits with the Federal Reserve, and money in the U.S. Treasury and in America banks both at home an abroad. At least $500 million was being held by Americans companies. The most hopeful part of the proposal was Iran’s suggestion that Algerian diplomats mediate final discussions.

THE FINAL NEGOTIATION

After Reagan’s victory, talks over the hostages cooled. However the negotiations proceeded through November, with overtures and responses, as though America were hammering out a trade agreement, not dealing with criminal regime but with a trade agreement. Carter welcomed the conditions demanded by the Iranian kidnappers.

Many Americans would applaud a bold, punitive move by the new Ronald Regan administrations, even if it was a bloody one. By any calculations, most of the blood spilled would be Iranian. Thus the election results imparted a new urgency to the talks.

Carter had accepted Algeria as intermediary. Deputy Secretary of State Christopher led a delegation there after the election to present America’s formal response. It accepted all four Iran’s demands in principle:

1) Stop interfering in Iranian affairs;
2) Unfreeze Iranian assets frozen after the embassy was seized;
3) Removed sanctions and block [47]legal claims resulting from the takeover;
4) Block remaining assets of the shah from leaving the United States.

The United States countered with a fifth demand that all of the above was the hostages’ safe return. Christopher then outlined to the Algerians the major sticking point; Iran had [48]overestimated the shah’s missing fortune by a factor of a thousand. There were also legal constraints on what an American president could do about the shah’s private holdings and to what extent he could interfere with the courts.

Christopher pointed out that although America could not legally seize the Pahlavi family fortune, Iran might sue for its return. The United States government also could not bar corporations from suing to recover judges to rule in their favour, Iran responded by suggesting that the United States simply repay from its own treasury money looted from the Iranian people. The White House acknowledged this line of reasoning, but it was unwilling to concede that the shah’s fortune was lawfully Iran’s. Carter had immediately rejected it.

In mid-December, Iran added a new demand, one that was particularly revealing and that amounted very nearly to an admission of wrong-doing. It wanted indemnity. It wanted the United States to forfeit any future claims against Iran by the hostages or their families. The White House accepted the demand.

NEGOTIATING WITH THE IRANIANS

Iran first demanded $14 billion in frozen assets and $10 billion in cash guarantees, then a day later suggested that the United States could expedite the release by depositing $24 billion in Algeria as a guarantee against whatever the assets proved to be, a sum that the president called “ridiculous”. Iran was, in effect, demanding $640 million per hostages. A few days before Christopher, it appeared as though the talks had broken down, until State Department officials with experience in the Middle East encouraged Carter to make a lowball counteroffer and later agreed by Carter, Christopher secretly proposed $6 billion.

Carter and Reagan, perhaps intentionally were working a classic good cop/ bad cop routine. Regan’s words would make the powers in Iran think hard about blowing the remaining weeks they had to make a deal with the very reasonable Jimmy Carter. [Mark Bowden, 2007]

In a Camp David meeting the week after Christmas with the Algerians, the president made another counterproposals that still few fell way short of paying up the $24 billion Iran had demanded but that offered something new: ”All claims by American institutions and [49]companies against Iran in US courts will be cancelled and nullified.”

Iran hardliners response was that any agreement ending the crisis would be made with the country of Algeria, and not directly between Iran and the United States. After weeks of long silence, Tehran responded favourably, and by January 6 the talks in Algeria had resumed.

The United States would promise not to interfere with Iran and it would return $9.5 billion in Iranian assets frozen after the embassy takeover. America too would freeze the shah’s assets in the United States to enable Iran to mount a legal effort to reclaim them and it would nullify all lawsuits presently filed against Iran (referring the large corporate claims to binding arbitration before an international tribunal) and bar any such actions in the future.

With neither side trusting the each other, a complex scheme of money transfers was worked out to trigger the hostages’’ release. The United States would wire money to bank in England, and only after it was safely deposited would the Iranians release the hostages. The British bank would not release the funds to Algeria until the hostages had departed Iran. The deal was all but done.

THE END OF THE CRISIS

The Federal Reserve Bank was to transfer the first portion of Iran’s frozen assets to an account in London as soon as the banks opened for business there, and then the Bank of England would move that money into an escrow account controlled by the National Bank of Algiers. The hostages were then released on the Reagan's Inauguration Day, January 20, 1981.

The hostage crisis is an assault on diplomacy. It ultimately depended on diplomacy for resolution. By some it would be a case study in the futility of governing a country by fantasy.

At its essence, the Cold War was an ideological clash stalled on the doorsteps of annihilating nuclear exchange, and for decades most experts feared the most likely trigger would be war in the Middle East. With Iran’s vital oil resources, both the Communist and Capitalist world had a huge stake in the region’s local disputes, so any time there was war in that part of the world there was the overarching fear that it could escalate and engulf the planet. Carter’s efforts in ending the crisis by diplomatic solution had made that prospect less likely.

REFERENCES:-

1. Guest of The Ayatollah – The Iran Hostage Crisis: First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam, Mark Bowden. Grove Press New York, 2007;
2. The Eagle and the Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations, James Bill. Yale University Press, 1988;
3. Iran, At War with History, John W. Limbert. Westview Press, 1987;
4. In the Shadow of the Ayatollah: A CIA Hostage in Iran, William Daugherty. Naval Institute Press, 2001
5. Hard Choices: Critical Year in America’s Foreign Policy, Cyrus Vance. Simon and Schuster, 1983.

[1] Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
[2] Served as the Prime Minister of Iran from 1951 to 1953
[3] SAVAK (National Intelligence and Security Organization) was the domestic security and intelligence service of Iran from 1957 to 1979.
[4] Ali Shariati was an Iranian sociologist and revolutionary
[5] The perfect Muslim community, a classless, crimeless community infused with the “spirit of God”
[6] When Asgharzadeh had proposed the move two weeks earlier at a meeting of an umbrella activist group called Strengthen the Unity, it was opposed by two students, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from Tarbiat Modarres University and Mohammed Ali Seyyedinejad from Elm-o-Sanat University. Both preferred targeting the Soviet embassy instead.
[7] Mullah is a title given to some Islamic clergy
[8] The young leaders of the students organization and he would become its head in two years.
[9] Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski served as the United States Security Adviser to Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981
[10] Kermit "Kim" Roosevelt, Jr., was the grandson of American president Theodore Roosevelt. He was also the mastermind of the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) Operation Ajax, which orchestrated the coup against Iran's Mohammed Mossadegh and returned Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, to Iran's Peacock Throne in August 1953.
[11] William Hamilton McWhorter Jordan was the Chef of Staff to President Jimmy Carter
[12] An angry or belligerent response might alienate a potential ally.
[13] A frequent critic of American foreign policy, Clark had befriended many anti-shah Iranians living in the United States prior to the revolution and in the previous year had marched with anti-shah protesters.
[14] Miller some years earlier had protested America’s relationship with Iran’s monarch by resigning as political section chief in Tehran.
[15] Henry Precht was the State Department personnel specialist in Iran affairs
[16] Head of the Iran Revolutionary Council
[17] Meaning these two mediators are not U.S. government representatives but friends of Jimmy Carter which the President trusted
[18] A veteran on the beat who had travelled the world with Henry Kissinger, Valeriani had gotten to know people in the State Department office who handled the logistics of official travel.
[19] The top-secret briefing room in the massive building’s inner rim, to hear what kind of emergency plan their staff had prepared for rescuing the hostages.
[20] Operation officer
[21] Cyrus Roberts Vance was the United States Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1980
[22] Initially Soviet deployment in Afghanistan began on August 7, 1978.
[23] A wealthy Argentinean expatriate and Cuban cigar distributor living in France
[24] French lawyer and human rights activist
[25] Omar Efraín Torrijos Herrera was the Commander of the Panamanian National Guard and the de facto leader of Panama from 1968 to 1981.
[26] Torijjos assistant
[27] Negotiations to hand over control of the Panama Canal in 1977 had built close ties between the Torrijos regime and the Carter administration, and the dictator had recently done the administration a favour by agreeing to accept the shah.
[28] Kurt Josef Waldheim was an Austrian diplomat and politician. He served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1972 to 1981, and later President of Austria from 1986 to 1992.
[29] The oil well had always been a big part of the logic in making the shah’s army and air force effectively which was backed up by a regional branch of the U.S. military.
[30] Sadegh Ghotbzadeh was a close aide of Ayatollah Khomeini during his 1978 exile in France, and Iranian Foreign Minister during Iran hostage crisis following the Iranian Revolution. In 1982 he was executed for allegedly plotting the assassination of Ayatollah Khomeini and the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.
[31] CIA reports on the two men raised serious questions about whether they could be trusted
[32] They said the tape was a gift from Ghotbzadeh.
[33] An assistant secretary of state
[34] Secretary of the Revolutionary Council.
[35] A French Lawyer, diplomats from Algeria, Syria, and Venezuela, and the former president of Bangladesh
[36] Abol-hassan Banisadr was the first President of Iran, following the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the abolition of the monarchy.
[37] The 1980 presidential campaign between Reagan and incumbent President Jimmy Carter was conducted during domestic concerns as well as the ongoing Iran hostage crisis.
[38] Joseph Powell (Jimmy Carter’s press secretary) had speculated that such a direct move might actually prompt the networks and major news papers to send more reporters there, simply to assert their independence.
[39] Brzezinski said, and announces that his patience with Iran had been exhausted by its blatant disregard for international law and its refusal to negotiate in good faith and, as a result, he had authorized a hostage rescue mission and a variety of retaliatory air strikes.
[40] Shah died on July 27, 1980, at the age of 60 and Egyptian President Sadat gave the Shah a state funeral.
[41] Ali Khamene'i has been Supreme Leader of Iran since 1989 and before that was president of Iran from 1981 to 1989.
[42] He was a middle level official in the collapsed Bazargan provisional government and the brother in law of the imam’s son Ahmad.
[43] West German foreign minister.
[44] Christopher was the Deputy Secretary of State and served in that position until January 20, 1981.
[45] There was too much risk of a leak.
[46] Rafsanjani is best described as a pragmatic conservative, who supports a centrist (but nonetheless Islamist) position domestically and a moderate position internationally, seeking to avoid conflict with the United States.
[47] Today a number of the hostages are trying to sue the Iranian government for damages but are blocked by the agreement the United States signed to secure their release.
[48] Iran put the figure at between $20 to $60 billion and the United States said it was closer to $20 to $60 million.
[49] The immediate effect of that provision, which Carter once again labelled a “final offer,” would be to free Iran of the almost $3 billion in claims by Sed. co, Du Pont, Xerox, and other corporations.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

gee, you really love typing, don't you?

Tun Teddy said...

anon,

I love writing.. and probably next year I'll come out with my latest book on Malaysian Special Branch. Pray for me ok!

Faces of Tun Teddy

Faces of Tun Teddy