Hostage Breakthrough

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 9)

Despite all the evidence of a deal, some nagging specifics had to be worked out at the last moment. Iran's Nabavi termed them "trivial details." A U.S. State Department official said that the precise time at which both sides would begin to carry out the release terms still had to be decided, but he added: "For all practical purposes, there is agreement." U.S. officials expected the Americans to be out of Iran before Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. On a top-secret document in Tehran, Iranian Prime Minister Muhammed Ali Raja'i wrote: "Transfer scheduled for Tuesday morning Tehran time." That would be Monday night in the U.S.

If so, that would be a fitting consolation for Jimmy Carter, whose presidency became haunted by the hostage issue. His early restraint in handling Iran's affront to America's pride had at first earned him widespread praise for coolness under fire. But as months passed, public patience in the U.S. ebbed. The fiery failure in an Iranian desert of a U.S. military rescue mission symbolized the nation's frustration. In the end, the lingering hostage affair did much to ensure Carter's election defeat in November.

For the hostages, the confinement had been akin to an emotional sweatbox of unrelieved uncertainty over their ultimate fate. Would they be freed? Tried as spies? Executed? For their families at home, the months of recurring rumors of imminent release, fed by Iranian propagandists, had been painful too. Even on the verge of the actual release, noted Dorothea Morefield of San Diego, whose husband is consul general of the captive U.S. embassy: "Everybody's walking around with their fingers crossed." Said Susan Cooke of Memphis about her hostage son Donald: "I just want to grab him and hang on for dear life."

Her chance of delivering that hug was made possible by the patience and persistence of the outgoing President and his tireless diplomats. They labored through marathon meetings in Washington and Algiers, as other key actors in the drama, including turbaned Iranian clerics and pin-striped international bankers, met in London, New York, Tehran and Washington. As the negotiations intensified, the gulf between the U.S. and the ever unpredictable government of Iran, ruled by the Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini, an 80-year-old mystic leader, had looked too wide to be breached readily.

Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher and other key U.S. negotiators and aides had flown to Algiers two weeks ago on an Air Force Boeing 707. They expected to stay in the U.S. embassy compound, on a hill overlooking the Bay of Algiers, for only a few days. Their mission was to be on hand to give Algerian diplomats, who were acting as intermediaries between the U.S. and Iran, a quick response to any questions raised in Tehran about the U.S. offer.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9