Two top officials who were held
hostage in Tehran in 1979 called Monday for expanded diplomatic outreach to the
The 2012 Academy Award for Best
Picture was awarded Sunday evening to the film Argo, which focused on the plight of six Americans who escaped as
the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overrun by supporters of the Iranian revolution
and sought refuge in the Canadian ambassador's residence. Fifty-two of their
State Department colleagues did not escape the embassy and were held hostage by
the Iranian revolutionaries for 444 days. Two of those hostages spoke at an
event on Capitol Hill Monday and urged the Obama administration to do more to
"The moment before I stepped into that
beautiful Algerian airplane that would carry me, Ambassador Limbert, and 51 of
our colleagues home to freedom, I said to the senior Iranian hostage taker who was
standing on the ramp of Iran's Mehrabad Airport, ‘I look forward to the day
when your country and mine can again have a normal, diplomatic relationship,'" said Bruce Laingen,
the chargé d'affaires, then the senior U.S. diplomat in Tehran, when the
hostage crisis erupted. "I could not have imagined that more
than 32 years later, our countries would still be locked in a hostile cycle of
sustained, robust, and comprehensive diplomacy based on the premise of mutual
compromise can break this cycle, which threatens to enflame the region," Laingen
said. "And until we have an established channel for communication between the U.S.
and the Islamic Republic on the many interests we share, our countries will
continue to teeter on the brink of war."
No one should have any illusions
about the cruelty and brutality of the Iranian regime, but diplomacy involves
dealing with your enemies, Laingen said. He noted that President Jimmy Carter's military attempt to
rescue the hostages in Tehran ended in deadly failure while only negotiations
and diplomacy resulted in freedom for him and his fellow victims.
The movie Argo has reinforced negative views of the Iranian revolution in the
minds of Americans, and Iranians are still clinging to their negative views of
the United States, which date back to American support of the shah, Laingen
said. But both sides need to set aside their grievances and take new steps now,
especially at Tuesday's nuclear talks in Kazakhstan, he said.
wall of mistrust cannot be torn down in a day. It won't be torn down during the
talks, when the United States and Iran meet with the other P5+1 delegations in
Kazakhstan. My fear is that by the end of the talks tomorrow, there may even be
an even higher wall unless both sides are willing to make real compromises," Laingen
Limbert, who was political officer in Tehran in 1979 and
later became the first deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran under the
Obama administration, said Monday that Americans fail to understand the U.S.
role in creating anti-Americanism in Iran and therefore America's
responsibility to strive to repair long-held bilateral animosity.
highlights the negative attitudes that the two countries have held toward
each other for decades. Its brief introduction attempts to provide historical
context behind the embassy takeover, but the film does not convey the
prevailing Iranian sense of grievance -- real or imagined -- that led to the
1979 attack, and to the emotional response in the streets of Tehran," Limbert said.
"More than three decades later, the same atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust, and
festering wounds dominates Iranian-American relations."
The two sides have never addressed their
basic historical resentment and therefore the P5+1 talks have little chance of
achieving a real breakthrough, Limbert said. He argued that the Obama
administration has not made any real, substantive offers that would allow Iran
to compromise on its nuclear program while saving face.
U.S. ‘two-track' policy of engagement and pressure has -- in reality -- only
one track: multi-lateral and unilateral sanctions, that whatever their stated
intention and real effects, are allowing the Iranian government to claim credit
for defying an international bully," Limbert said. "The Obama administration
has not offered (and perhaps feels it cannot offer) far-reaching sanctions
relief in exchange for verifiable Iranian concessions on its nuclear program."
United States should propose talks with Iran on a host of issues besides the nuclear
program, if nuclear negotiations are not proving useful, Limbert said.
the nuclear issue may be just too politically difficult, then sustained
negotiations on other issues -- still starting small -- will be the most effective
way to start the countries on a new path of diplomatic engagement after three
futile decades of trading insults, threats, and empty slogans," he said. "To
move forward, we must stop holding all questions hostage to agreement on the
nuclear issue. Such an approach guarantees failure... After all, if we and the
Iranians could never agree on anything, Ambassador Laingen and I would still be
event was put on by groups including the Center for Arms Control and
Non-Proliferation, the Council for a Livable World, the Friends Committee on
National Legislation, and the National Iranian American Council.
"If two former hostages can call for
renewed and sustained relations with the country that held them hostage, it
seems it would be an easier trick for Congress and the White House to get on
board with a strong diplomatic agenda," said James Lewis, spokesman for the Center for Arms Control and
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