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tv   Iran Hostage Crisis - 40 Years Later  CSPAN  November 23, 2019 10:24pm-12:01am EST

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their experience next sunday, december 1, at 6:00 p.m. eastern. conducted by former nixon presidential library director timothy, they're from the library's oral history collection, a behind-the-scenes perspective on the house jewish ar committee's work during the nixon impeachment inquiry. that's next sunday at 6:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv, only on c-span3. >> the media marketplace has shifted dramatically in the last dozen years or so, and we've failed to keep pace. we have these rules in place that basically assume the entire media marketplace is three broadcast television stations at night and a daily newspaper that chunks on your front doorstep in the morning, as we're just talking. it is a vastly different market. 9 f.c.c. commissioner brendan carr monday night at 8:00 eastern on the "communicators" on c-span2.
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>> 52 americans were held hostage in the u.s. embassy in tehran. next, the wilson center hosts a panel discussing how the iran hostage crisis has impacted .s. foreign policy since then. >> good morning. welcome to the wilson center. my name is christian osterman, and i have the privilege to direct the history and public policy program here at the center. thank you for joining us today for this panel discussion on the 40th anniversary of the iran hostage crisis. on november 4, 1979, 52 american diplomats and citizens were taken hostage by a crowd of iranian students who stormed the u.s. embassy, the combination of worsening relations between this country and iran in the wake of the iranian revolution in february 1979. even though the crisis ended
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with the release of the hostages in 1981, after an incredible ordeal that lasted some 444 days, it has had a lasting influence on the relationship between the two countries. images of iranian students breaching the u.s. embassy, shouting anti-american slogans, detaining officials and burning the american flag, traumatized a nation and a presidency. they live on in popular consciousness here with such movies ads the 2012 movie "argo" and they continue to weigh on the public discourse. we want to explore this lasting impact. hostage crisis a bit further, and we have convened a panel of distinguished experts which will be moderated by my colleague. i'm very pleased that our expert, that the distinguished
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guests have accepted our invitation. today's event is being organized by the center's history and public policy program. the program seeks to provide meaningful historical context through public policy issues and debate as a global leader n uncovering and publicizing documentation through at ward-winning digital archive easily accessible to all of ought digitalor you'll see the front page there. it works with a network to build next generation research capacity, foster dialogue on new historical sources and perspectives, and to push for greater archival access and transparency. we have recently launched a new initiative on exploring and documenting the contemporary international history of the middle east through genuine local and regional sources and perspectives.
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someday we hope to analyze and discuss episodes such as the one we'll be focusing on today based on iranian and other archives in the region. let me also say that the middle east program has graciously agreed to cosponsor today's session. i want to thank our speakers and my colleague for moderating. unfortunately, john, an eyewitness to the hostage ordeal, who agreed to be and here really wanted to be here, had to cancel at the last moment for a health emergency. we are, of course, sending our best wishes to john for a speedy recovery. i'm grateful for my team for the recognition of this event. two of our talented program interns, and especially my
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colleague on the history program, ken burns, who took the lead putting this together and who spear heads our middle east initiative. we'll introduce our speakers, so let me briefly introduce her, not that she needs an introduction to this group. she's the founding director of the middle east program, now public policy fellow at the wilson center. in iran she worked as a journalist, an demeck, and on women's issues. she directs a complex of several museums and cultural centers before joining the wilson center, she taught persian language at princeton. she's the author of reconstructed life, women and iranians islamic revolution, and my prison, my home, one woman's story of iran based on her own ordeal in iran, on months of imprisonment in prison in 2007. let me also add she's an amazing colleague and dear
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friend who we at the center have been fortunate to have around. she is a institution. she's a sought after expert on iran and i've learned a lot from her as a scholar, public intellectual as program manager and institution builder, and as a moderator who combines grace with draconian discipline, and i'm looking at our panelists, so thank you for sharing this event. the floor is yours. >> thank you very much. it's an honor to be here with uch a distinguished panel. i think some of us in this room emember looking forward to 1979. i must confess when i saw the pictures of these students climbing up the gate of the
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american embassy in tehran so shortly after the revolution, i thought they have gone completely crazy. what a thing to do, you know, and i thought, ok, they'll go in and they'll go out, and that would be it. nd there was an interview he gave recently, he said that he thought that the students were to just demonstrate, and so he volunteered to go out and talk to them, and so he walked out, they locked the door behind him, and the next thing he knows, he was blindfolded and he was taken by the students. his counter part, you know, not his counter part, but the student who designed the whole plan gave an interview just a he said days ago, and
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that he thought this would be a 48-hour affair, and it will end, and they would send a message to america, and that was that. but it wasn't. as christian said, it lasted and just one day people of tehran, iran, heard that the hostages were put in muni buses, sent to the airport, and left the country and freed. to make sense of all this, this appening, we have a very distinguished panel. we will get a historical
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background of what happened .hat day and during that year he is, as was mentioned, the deputy director of research, the national security archive. he's currently u.s. relation project, which studies controversially events through multinational and multiarchival corporation. he was public policy scholar at the wilson center, and he's the author of iran-contra, reagan scandal, and unchecked abuse of presidential power. he's a senior fellow and director of the brookings intelligence project and the senior fellow at the center of policy here served under the last four presidents to shape middle east, nd
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and additionally he has advised nato and foreign government on similar issues. he has a number of books, so i and i can choose to mention one . and he's the author of kings and presidents saudi arabia and the u.s. since f.d.r. i was so intrigued by the title i read, it's fantastic. i recommend it. finally susan maloney, the susan maloney, i always refer to her as, because she's the top expert on iran. i think not only in this town, but in the country, and i have watched her career from day one, so therefore, i think i can say whatever i want to say. and she's the deputy director
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of the foreign policy program at the brookings institution,&senior fellow in the brookings center of middle east policy and energy security and climate initiative. she had served on the secretary of state policy planning staff, and i directed the task force on u.s. policy towards iran at the council of foreign relation. she is the author of iran political economies since the revolution and reconsidered the nuclear deal and the quest for a new moderation. when i saw the word moderation, i thought wishful thinking. ok, let's start with you. oh, i have some thanks and an apology. the thanks are to the organizers for including me. and my apology is to all of you for not being john.
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i had a reminder of the effect this might have in the elevator when a person who's here in the room and heard in the elevator me saying that john was out because of surgery, she said john isn't going to be here. so i hope you don't all feel that way, but obviously i can't fill his shoes, but i can provide some historical background on the really fascinating and important episode. i'll do this in three small lightning fast chunks. the historical background, the approximate causes, and also just run through some of the dates of that event that happened during this crisis. i also brought some artifacts, some declassified documents as christian requested, and i'm always happy to oblige. these may help illustrate some of what i'm going to talk about. and i will just say before we start that i'm sure we all feel
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the same way that aside from john, the person who we most miss here is bill miller who played a part in these events and was always the strong supporter of certainly our project at the national security archive on announcer:. with that, let me start with the historical background. there are three main things that i want to mention. the first sufficient to go back to 1953 to understand the motivation. that is not as straight forward a proposition as you might think in the good old days. it used to be widely accepted that the c.i.a. and the british were largely responsible for the coup against muhammad, but challenges een some to that thesis of late, that basically posit the c.i.a. had virtually nothing to do with the overthrow, that it was really iranians by themselves. i have some problems with that, but i think don't need to get
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into the specifics to recognize that what is important for our purposes is the awareness that iranians believed that the united states was involved, and in fact, there is very clear evidence that i don't think anybody disputes that at least the u.s. had the intention to overthrow. there's absolutely no question of that, and i do have one item that has always been compelling to me. it is a deprable the u.s. ambassador in baghdad on the 17th of august, the day after the shah fled iran after the first attempt at the coup failed. and the part that i've highlighted here says it led to baghdad and has to meet with the ambassador, and the ambassador writes, i found shah warned from three sleepless nights, but with no, repeat no, bitterness towards americans who had urged and planned action. i suggested for his prestige in
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iran he never indicate that any foreigner had had a part in recent events. he agreed. so that to me is fairly compelling, but anyway, the point is iranians have believed for many, many years now that the u.s. was centrally involved and that was a big part of the motivation. the second event is the 25-year reign of the shah that followed his reinstatement by the u.s. and iranian forces. this was the period where all the damage was done. this was where the shah increasingly alienated the population, accrued greater and greater power to himself, became essential a dictator, witnessed wide spread corruption and so on, all of which iranians came to resent more and more, and many of them believed, as we know, that the u.s. was the hidden hand behind all of this, even though
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scholarship shows that the relationship between the shah was much more complicated than that. the third event was the revolution itself and the prd that followed the 10 months or so after the departure of the shah in january of 1979 and the arrival of the ayatollah khomeini who would eventually be the leading light of the islamic republic of iran. the point here is that that event was not something that could be readily predicted at the beginning of the revolution. it was uncertain how events would unfold. iran was in a chaotic state. there was all kinds of strife, ethnic political and otherwise, the kurds, leftist, others were all pushing and shoving, and it was a very violent and unsettled time. and this, i think, played in as well very much to the thinking
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of the people behind the hostage seizure who wanted to their thing to advance cause. so what were the approximate causes? i would point to three. the first is one that is not readily remembered, and that was a resolution passed by congress in may of 1979 sponsored by jacob javits of new york, which called iran to account for all the executions that were being perpetrated and generally the terrible treatment they were goiven their citizens, including jews y. is this important? because khomeini thought it was important. he himself took great exception to this and railed against it publicly, not failing to mention that this was a jewish center who was leading the charge, again,as the united states was interfering in internal affairs, and he made a
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cause celebre out of this. charlie nass, who was at the time the acting d.c.m. at the embassy in tehran said that this basically spelt end of any of his hopes for improvement of the situation, and he shortly thereafter left and was replaced by bruce langen. much better known as a cause of the takeover was the admission of the shas to the united states for medical treatment in october of 1979, and before ruce was appreciate weren't in a cable that he wrote to washington in response to a query in july, so a couple of months ahead of time, in response to a query, what did i think it would mean if the u.s. admitted the shah. he gave some background, and he said subject to this reservation, i conclude that for the shah to take up
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residence in the u.s. in the immediate future by which i mean the next two or three months would continue as before to be seriously prejudice dwrool our interests and to the security of americans in iran. this was exactly how things worked out, and he was not alone in saying that. virtually every iran expert, certainly in the state department, warned of this. but along about october 20, the work came down from the white house that the president had approved, this was a note on october 20 from the president, but then there's handwriting on the bottom that said the president called late saturday evening with approval. that didn't immediately cause the takeover. it took a little while longer, and then the final event that seemed to break the cackle's back was the infamous meeting
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between him and. and this was an event that he acknowledged he urged. he suggested strongly that he et with him because of the lack of high-level contacts before that time, between mericans and iranians. others thought this would a really good idea. i don't know that he believes that they would be the one to meet with him. i think he thought david newsome might be the person more appropriate. be that as it may, it was -- made headlines around the world, and that appeared to be what set off the students following the line. those are the three causes i would draw attention to, and i
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think i got a few more minutes. then i go through, as was requested earlier, and give just a couple of the key dates that are good to keep in mind, so november 4 is the day that the students stormed the gates. they'd been planning this for a couple of weeks. after apparently rejecting the idea of storming the soviet embassy, which none other than he was behind, so he lost out on that. we know a great deal of highly classified material was captured, the agency officials and others tried to burn and shred materials. the materials they shredded, the iranians managed to reconstruct in many cases, and then sold them at a little book stall at the gate of the embassy. these materials are actually incredibly fascinating and mportant for understanding
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they offer emissaries to go to iran to negotiate the hostage release. it's someone who is known to have associations with dissidents and bill miller, who had been tapped to be eventually the ambassador, replacing bill sullivan, but that never came about. november 6, the government collapses while the clark miller mission is still heading to turkey. they end up staying in turkey because they can't get access to tehran, and it's a great story of how they tried to push their agenda no matter what. the carter administration immediately moves into action. the special coordination committee, a subset of council starts to meet, and we've got a lot of records declassified at
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the carter library, virtually every meeting is recorded there, and it's a fascinating account of the evolution of thinking. a couple of items that i have that relate to that that just gives insight into what the top levels of the administration were thinking include this december 1979 report from brzezinski to the president where he offers his opinion about so-called difficult choices than iran, and he says at one point we need to consider military actions, which contribute to his downfall, meaning the downfall, and that's the release of hostages of obtaining the other objective, his downfall, i have set up a very small, tightly held group to see whether we can make this happen, etc., at the end of it, carter writes in his handwriting, he says we need to list everything that khomeini would not want to see occur and which would not incite condemnation of u.s. by other nations. now this is a little extreme
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what he was proposing. and in fact, there's even more remarkable document that was available in the carter library , have not seen anything like this. it's from brzezinski to carter, and it's entitled black room report. and my theory is that this small group, the small tightly held group that he mentions is what this black room is. and he starts off saying we have been examining the situation in iran from the standpoint of influencing the course of political developments. goes on to list some thoughts, and he says are we prepared to accept a commitment to destabilize the situation in iran and try to replace the leadership. carter writes in the margin, not yet. it goes on to suggest some other things that are very similar, and carter again, as is wont to do, made some handwritten notes at the end. he says be extremely cautious about u.s. action for now. but assess options within c.i.a. let them give me analysis of
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all potential khomeini elements. so again, this is extreme. the s.e.c. was considering all kinds of things from dealing with student visas, freezing assets, mounting a blockade, all kinds of things are being considered obviously just because it's written doesn't mean that was going to happen, but it certainly is interesting hat it was on the table. a couple of other quick dates. carter ends oil imports from iran and freezes the assets. a couple of days later, the african-american and women hostages are released as a symbol of iranian concern for these minority groups. in january, january 27, a famous canadian caper happened, which was the subject of the film, and there are even documents about that that have been released by c.i.a. april 7 takes a few months, the u.s. finally breaks off
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relations with iran, and just a little over two weeks later, mounts the doomed operation eagle claw, which ends in disaster, and the iranian desert, we have, among other things, declassified a top-secret report which examines the operation, and when we get into the question of ramifications of this, which my colleagues will do, this is one of them. this is one of the conclusions that we need to ramp up our special ops capabilities so that we can defend our interest better in the middle east, and obvious implications. july 27, the shah dies in egypt, which is important here because it effectively removes one of the key conditions that the iranians had for resolving this crisis, and then finally in january, january 19, the algiers accords are signed,
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which free the hostages who come home january torque the day that ronald reagan is inaugurated, very much deliberate timing, and that ends the crisis, but we will hear, and as you all well know, this was only the start of an incredibly bitter and prolonged period of relations between the u.s. and iran. thank you. > thank you. >> great, thank you so much, and thank you, especially for this incredibly generous, both opportunity, the incredibly generous introduction, which i will interpret as roof rather than actual description of my role here, my role in this field. i was one of the great thrisms the first time i came to washington was to go to a conference where i saw the
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greats of the field and how they ascend, sitting in the audience, and my career ever since then has had the same sense of thrill to be with people who have not just incredible scholarship on this issue, but also the benefit of firsthand experience during what i think was an incredibly critical juncture in the history of iran, the history of the region, history of u.s. policy to the region, increasingly ever more relevant today i think this particular episode. i'm going try to quickly make four big points about the impact of the hostage crisis on iran, and on the relationship between iran and the world and the united states. the first, as many of you already are well aware is the role of this moment, the seizure of the embassy, and the 444-day standoff that followed,
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in son doll dating the authority of the clerical elements of the revolutionary coalition, at least among those within the system, the hostage crisis is often described as a second revolution, and i think if anything it's an understatement, and to fully appreciate this, especially because we're here among historians, i think it's important to recognize how the revolution transpired, the way it was perceived within iran, as well as from a distance here in washington. this was a completely unprecedented moment in the sense of the upheaval from the streets leading to the eviction of what appeared to be an impregnable, pro-western, monarchy.uritized this was something inconceivable. we've lived through a variety of revolutions, including the at least, but, of course, also in eastern europe and latin
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america and elsewhere that have been primarily driven by people on the streets, but in 1979 and 1978, as these events were transpiring, it was inconceivable to almost everyone, including those who were part and parcel of the undertaking that led to this outcome, which is to say that it was primarily khomeini during the run up to the revolution, during the mobilization on the streets, which was highly coordinated and orchestrated. it was khomeini who was determined to make this a revolution rather than a project to try to rein in or impose reforms, and it was , omeini that drove that train ho once described it, he was not the driver of the train, nd there was so much political -- there was so much conflict
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and competition within the revolutionary coalition. there was such a wide variety of perspective. there was no clear state for this effort other than the determination to evict the shah, and, of course, as we all know, there was really no consensus about what was intended to follow the monarchy. and so his return on february 1 after the shah left the country leads to this country of what will happen, and there's about 10-day period celebrated in iran today in which there's this uncertainty about whether the reform oriented prime minister the shah left as a caretaker government would survive, and whether he would indeerked as everyone in washington anticipated, return o the seminary and primarily acquit himself, as we've seen?
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n some respects, since 2003, as someone who is highly influential, but not someone who's involved in the day-to-day affairs with government. that was never going to be the case, but it was not clear to anyone in washington, nor to anyone in iran. he authorized the establishment of a provisional government. he was not a cleric, but was the leader of the iran freedom movement, an organization that was highly influenced by religious preferences, but in a sense was also very much an heir to the pro-democracy republican orientation of the national front and the most era pressed for more accountable government. matthew was in charge. e established the -- re-established the institutions, but throughout this period, between february
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and august, there is a competition for authority, and there's the establishment off the preparation to try to coordinate the mobilization on the streets against the shah, and over time it becomes clear that those organs, in fact, are really running the affairs of overnment in iran. this competition dime a head with the seizure of the embassy because at that moment when it was -- the americans in the embassy turn to the provisional government, as they had done in february during a prior, much briefer siege on the u.s. embassy, to look for help from the security forces to remove the students and end this standoff, what they found was the provisional government learly wasn't in charge. in many ways, only formalized what had become true over this
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period, that it was the council that was absolutely making the decisions with the affairs of state, that the provisional government didn't and wasn't ever going to have full control. over the future of the iranian government. and by giving -- by forcing the provisional government and ministers to resign from their posts, this moment, the seizure of the embassy enabled co-main tee really take the reins of government in a much more formal way, spear head what was lready underway. it's away from a truly representative government towards something that created, and as we seen for 40 years, the office of the supreme leader and a set of institutions that had no popular basis and had no accountability in terms of elections.
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in terms of this moment, the way it played out in iran, i think what's important is it amplified the sense of siege that was already felt by iranians. this was a time of tumult. there was upheaval throughout the crifment the revolution wasn't a one-day affair. thofse us sitting in washington often watched these things, and we assumed that once the former government leaves and once a new government is established, that the revolution is done. that was not the case for iranians. there were fights going on, even on a neighborhood by eighborhood basis. this diverse group that included religious extremists, including those who saw to create a more democratic representative government in iran, and many others. really jockeys for power.
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you have this sense of tumult and uncertainty. and then to have what was seen as the most powerful government in the world, the institution, its presence in tehran, overtaken notehran, overtaken ny anybody, but young students, who themselves were infused with revolutionary fervor in hoping to see a different outcome. if you read the memoirs of some of the students and commentaries of the students, they are middle-aged and have had many opportunities to look back on this episode. they do express what malcolm suggested, there was this deep paranoia and concern there was a plot from the united states to find a way to reinstate the shah . they were watching very closely the context between the -- the contacts between the american government and elements of the provisional government. rather than seeing this as a
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reassuring gesture, which was intended from those here in washington, trying to find some way to preserve a relationship, they did not want that relationship preserved. they were determined to find a way to have a permanent breach between iran and the united states to ensure the revolution could not be disrupted, to ensure that its intent could not be subverted by the machinations of american imperialists. this was very much what they had in mind. there is an interesting historical debate going on now. there is a wonderful book from an author from texas a&m. there are other books forthcoming. khomeini had some advanced warning of this episode. the standard interpretation is that he was unaware, but he made the most of the moment. we know khomeini over the course of the rest of his time as
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leader of the islamic republic was highly opportunistic. but there is at least some suggestion that he had advanced warning and was able to take advantage of this in the way that he did to press for not vestigesremoval of the of secular authority, but also to use this in a way to cement the ideological fervor of the population, because in his remarks when he actually announced that in fact this was approved by the leadership, he described this very much, his decision, on the basis of the overwhelming popularity among the iranian masses. what this did was to deter .from the
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decision he described this as something he has embraced in the masses embraced. if you are a political leader. from another perspective, if you seek to press back on this, you are then speaking back on those who from the leadership and the population. very difficult to oppose the decision from the outset from within, and it enabled khomeini to marginalize not just those in power, not just the provisional government, but also other contenders for ideological authority, most notably a, senior ayatollah someone dissented -- someone descended from the ideology of the islamic republic. crisis also transformed iran's place in the world. this breach between the united states and iran. it also created the sense and
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conviction that iran was prepared to take extreme measures to embrace unconventional foreign policy in order to advance its interests in the world. of course, it also coincided with the development of institutions within iran that were intended to foment subversion and export the revolution. for khomeini and many of those reinforced, this the episode itself, reinforced the sense that the united states is on its last leg. it is a waning empire. the phrase america cannot do a damn thing was a phrase painted on the walls in front of the embassy. i believe they were recently cleaned and repainted in preparation for not just the annual commemoration, which will take place over the next few days in tehran, but also for a new movie the iranians are producing. just to one up "argo."
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this really did demonstrate that iran was not going to be a compliant proxy. for the americans, what this did was reinforce that we are a more limited power than we have often perceived. this, of course, the time this was all transpiring under the carter presidency, the sense of futility and frustration that there are americans whose lives are in danger and there is not a damn thing we can do about it. fascinating,a important episode to study if you want to understand both the trajectory of american policy, its impact on iran. the very first thing that happened when this special coordinating committee was established the day after the initial seizure of the embassy was a decision that we need to use both pressure and persuasion, or as it would later be described, carrot and stick to influence iran.
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but ultimately in part because of the concerns that malcolm noted in the fears of moving too fast or too far, the use of economic sanctions was first employed against iran in early november 1979. it was deployed in probably one of the mosts effective periods until the nuclear crisis we ever saw, because the seizure of not's assets in u.s. banks, really didut abroad, create constraints for the government and helped drive it into the crisis. it also had a massive and formative impact on iran's economy, because what it meant was the economy turned inward. iran sought not to engage economically abroad, but to rely on its own capabilities. that is something we hear even to this day in the themes of resistance economy and the idea
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that sanctions can in fact be a blessing. the negotiations, if you want to think about how the nuclear crisis or the situation we are in today with iran might lead itself to better conclusions, it is very useful to study the negotiations that took place over the course of the 444 days. the multiplicity of interlocutors, both from the united states and a variety of fascinating international characters, the essential role of the algerians in the final stage as a mediator, but also the perpetuation of the crisis beyond its useful life. the iranian parliament set conditions for the end of the crisis in september of 1980. by then, the shah was dead and there was a clear understanding with the invasion from iraq that iran needed this crisis to be over. still, it took another four months before the hostages were assetsd and iran's also.released on
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the same day me close with a thought or two about the understanding of this episode today. i am old enough to remember it. i was not old enough to live through it in a personal way, but it really personalized this crisis for americans in a way that has had lasting impact. every american understood this was a seige. it was on the daily television. the idea of a nightly news talkshow, which eventually became "nightline." it personalized this in a direct way for the carter presidency, this wasmany respects, a crucial episode in understanding how carter's presidency went into failure. the end of terms of the monarchy in iran. there was a quote i have
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preserved from the leader of panama, which is one of the places where the shah when he went into his flying dutchman mode was forced to travel in his final dying days. the leader of panama commented that, imagine that. 20 500 years of persian empire reduced to 10 people and two dogs. it is easy to find this humorous today, but i think the kind of humiliation this episode represented, for all those who had invested themselves not in the kind of glory of the shah, but the hope that the monarchy could bring about a better life for iranians, for all those who invested themselves in the hope that the revolution would bring a better life for iranians, this episode has direct and personal consequences for all those involved. respect, it is important to reflect back on and also to consider how we move
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forward with iran today. thanks. >> thank you very much. >> thank you very much. thank you for inviting me. i am delighted to be here with my two colleagues and friends. let me begin where suzanne ended, with a personal note. i was a quite8, young analyst at the central intelligence agency, and i was reassigned on very short notice from the syrian desk to the iran desk. the analysts who had previously been on the desk were taken out of the helicopter pad and were executed. no. [laughter] black deepthat state. through the account end of the hostage crisis. so i have very strong feelings about it. this was a critical turning point in u.s. views, especially
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towards iran, but even more broadly towards islam in general and the middle east in general as well. man ofcame the boogie american foreign policy. and i would argue, it remains the boogeyman of american foreign policy 40 years on. it became a dominant issue in politics. few foreign policy issues resonate to the electoral calendars. iran is one of the few issues that has resonated more than once, and certainly resonated very powerfully in the 1980 election. the demonization of iran came easy. first of all, the iranians did a lot of things that were wrong, like keeping american diplomats hostage for 444 days was a clear violation of international rules of behavior. but the crisis and the atmosphere and the politics surrounding it, and the
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incessant reporting on television every night, what was going on, only reinforced all of that. it also had an important impact on the office of the american presidency. the office was diminished in many ways by this affair, and i will argue at the end that two american presidents saw their legacies very badly damaged by the hostage crisis and the little hostage crisis that followed the next decade. malcolm was right to start us with looking at the revolution. it was the stage setter. it was unprecedented. there was nothing like it. 1978,ing it in fall things were happening that no one had predicted were going to happen. within the united states, i think there was more ambivalence about the revolution than we think in retrospect. the shah was not a particularly
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popular character in the united states. any americans who actually followed the 1970 three oil embargo new it was the shah, not the saudis, who pushed for quadrupling oil prices. his image was very strong and positive among foreign policy elites, less so among others. but the number one american reaction to the revolution in 1978 was a sense of mystery. who are these people? what is an ayatollah? what does an ayatollah do? what is shiism? what is this policy, the religious holiday, people going alone flagellating themselves? all of these things for most americans, i would say 99% of americans, were eye-opening. they had never seen anything like this. the sense ofeased drama and attention that was being focused on iran.
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created ae taking wave of unambiguously. it was no longer a mysterious force, it was in people force -- it was an evil force. remember thatt to the hostage crisis took place at a time when not only were the american hostages taken, but we had other serious events. the seizure of mecca in saudi arabia, the attack in islamabad. all added to the sense that this was a very important event. much of that frustration focused on the president. it is deeply ironic, because we now know from hamilton jordan's memoirs and others that jimmy carter from the beginning expected that the embassy would be taken over if the shah was
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brought to the united states. he was pressed by his advisors and outsiders like henry kissinger in the rockefellers to let the shah come in. he kept asking his advisors come out when they take the embassy, what am i going to do? what options will i have? the options they came back to him with was, you don't have any good options. the iranians were right. the slogan on the wall, there isn't anything you can do about it, was very much correct. it was the impotence of the united states of america, because the bar for success that carter staged in every american expected would be staged was that the hostages would be brought home, all of them alive and well, that we would not lose any hostages in the price has. youhat is the bar you set, need to persuade the iranians to
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hand them over. as suzanne has pointed out, we went into a carrots and sticks phase. the problem was thecarrots we had were not very good, and the sticks took a while to be operational. economic sanctions, things like that, will work, but it might take 444 days. it might have taken longer. we were really prisoners to the political process that suzanne described going on in iran, and we had very little impact on that process. in fact, we only had some insight into what was going on. we did not understand that process any more than many iranians understood what that process was going on. short, found himself in a position where the american people were clamoring for action, and there was very little action he could take.
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it is also important to remember in retrospect that the cold war hung over all of us, and that every conversation about american options in iran always came back to a russian angle. for example, if you wanted to talk about destabilizing the regime, the immediate question would come up of who can benefit from that? paranoid fear of the communist party in iran was always on the table. the 1980's, americans may not have understood what an ayatollah was, but they was,stood what a communist and they certainly understood that the russians would be supporting any communist party. also in the summer of 1980, very disturbing intelligence reports about the soviets practicing an invasion of iran. of course, that came in the wake of the soviet invasion of
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afghanistan in december 1979. no one in the intelligence community was going to dismiss the possibility that the soviets were seriously considering an invasion of iran. at the cia, our job is not to recommend proposals, but our job the pros and cons of all options. the cons were obvious on all of them, and frankly, overwhelming. carternsequence, jimmy became perceived to be irrelevant, incapable. when he did carry out the hostage rescue mission, of course, that only underscored it. the hostage rescue mission never had one chance in 1000 of succeeding. in many ways, it was better that an failed to desert one, th catastrophically failed in downtown tehran.
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but it showed it was willing to embark on such a high risk, low probability of success mission in order to get the hostages out. consequences of the hostage crisis was the iran-iraq war, the longest and bloodiest conventional war in the world since the korean war. saddam hussein rightly concluded in the summer of 1980 that the united states would not stop an iraqi invasion and the united nations would not even condemn it, and he was right. here was a clear breach of international agreements, a country crossing the border and seizing territory from another the united nations security council did not even meet it to discuss for several weeks afterward. this leads in the long run to the u.s. tilting toward iraq and the u.s.-iran undeclared naval
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war in 1988. for iranians, all this indicated that the united states was indeed the enemy, and it became just as easy to dim and eyes -- to demonize americans in iran as it was to demonize iran in the united states. i think it should be noted that jimmy carter did continue to pursue quite vigorous foreign policies in other areas. the one i would highlight for a minute was the response to the soviet invasion in afghanistan. the public response of the carter doctrine was the first statement by an american president that the persian gulf was a vital national security interest to the united states and the united states would use force in order to protect it. it also led to the creation of syncom. jimmy carter behind-the-scenes, in the matter of theit also wee,
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put together the alliance of the united states, saudi arabia, and pakistan that would go on to -- tot the bashaw dean support them. other countries were rapidly brought into the loop. china as a source of arms. egypt, the united kingdom as a source of advisors with boots on the ground inside afghanistan, something no american did during the war. but all of this was behind-the-scenes. all of it was covert, and jimmy carter got very little credit for it. he couldn't even write about it in his memoirs because it was still a classified project. administration did virtually nothing to it. it is only in the second term of the reagan administration. let me conclude by turning to reagan. reagan very much knew he owed
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his electoral victory in november 1980 two the unpopularity of jimmy carter, and he had exploited that. they had deliberately put out the image that they had a plan, that they were going to do something drastic. team wasreagan elected, we immediately at the cia. access to them. we were about to get his campaign advisor, bill casey, as our new director. i can tell you, having seen all the documents they prepared leading up to inauguration day, they didn't have a plan either. there was nothing in the works that would dramatically change the situation. so i think that ronald reagan thanked his lucky stars that on the day he came in, jimmy carter got to fly to frankfurt and welcome the hostages home. but he then suffered from his own slow burning, much smaller,
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much less dramatic, but nonetheless very real hostage crisis after the invasion of arm of, and iran's hezbollah began taking hostages. in the mid-1980's, i was working on the syria, lebanon desk again. we got requests from reagan and casey. what is this mean for the hostages? what dpe that -- what does that mean for the hostages? it was an indication of their obsession with the hostages. in that obsession led them the end to turn to the policy of arms for hostages. a really brilliant idea given to them by the israelis. it turned out to be a disastrous end, and as malcolm has written in his really excellent book, almost led to the impeachment of
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ronald reagan. in retrospect, the american people have whitewashed the arms for hostages thing. it puts reagan into a very special place in american memory. but if not for that, his legacy and many ways would have been as tarnished as jimmy carter by iran and hostages. looking ahead, there is no likelihood i can see on the horizon of the stain of the hostage crisis and the impact of the hostage crisis being removed from u.s.-iranian relations. to bere more likely brought home to americans and reminded of the hostages, rather than placed in a different kind of perspective. >> thank you. thank you, bruce. let me put the question to the trio.
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the generation in iran, let's say those who were 20 when the hostage crisis started, are now 60. they have gone through the war, they have gone through all of these american sanctions, hardships, and so on, and you don't hear from them even the history of the hostage crisis. you have a generation that was not even born when the hostage crisis started. they are now in their 40's. the ones who were born afterward. for them, this is not an issue. what would it take for the united states to not forget or forgive this or,, not make this a issue and to have relationship between the two countries?
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>> i think that it is a very difficult question to answer. [laughter] you ask the toughest questions. believe that u.s. policy today is directly motivated by this sense of resentment, or even by the demonization of iran that has come fairly consistently over the course of the past 40 years, sometimes with legitimate provocation and sometimes because iran is a convenient punching bag for the american the american people are familiar with. i don't see the question of the hostage crisis itself looming quite so large in the imaginations of current american policymakers, except in so far
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as it is related to what is seen as a fairly consistent thread of iranian policy, this readiness to take any means necessary, this capacity to target individuals, as you personally have experienced, to try to orsue the aims of the state, simply because there is an unwillingness or an inability to get control of some of the elements of the system that have and toh authority, actually impose order on that system itself. i think the importance of the hostage crisis today for american policymakers, that sense that iran does not consider it self to be barred by diplomatic protocol or international law that it will abuse individuals, target american servicemen in iraq,
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just to pursue disruption rather than constructing advancement of its own national interest. until and unless you see iran begin to shed some of those types of policies and take responsibility for them -- one of the things that struck me and continues to strike me is that iran will celebrate and commemorate the anniversary of the embassy seizure as it does every year. flags are burned, politicians' photos will be stepped upon. but for iranians, this is dusty old history. it is a bad thing that happened, but it was a bad thing after a lot of bad american things, so why do you even care about it? why is it significant? i don't think there is a full appreciation from younger innians that it was a breach
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the community of nations, the way that we conduct our inviolability of diplomatic personnel representing their countries. think there have been these moments, these opportunities for personal meetings. john limburg himself has participated with some of those from iran who were involved with the embassy seizure and i think there has been stock taking. but even the regret expressed by the former president, it was always tinged with this sense of justification, that it was an injustice, but a culmination of american injustices. i think there will be some need for accountability, or at least
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for an appreciation of the consequences, and that is one of the things -- one other quote and i will stop. richard warfield, who was one of the hostages, reports himself as to the spokesperson for the hostages that as he was about to be released, you were the first social revolution in history that did not have to compromise. from the very first minute, you had resources, money. you had all the money to make iran anything you wanted to make. anything was possible and you through it all away as a result of this episode. , i havethat recognition not seen that from iranians, at least not expressed publicly. i think your question illustrates one of the great paradoxes of american policy about iran.
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successive american administrations have identified iran as our regional foe and called for isolation, called for economic sanctions, to a greater or lesser extent. every americane, president, with the possible exception of george w. bush, has secretly longed to be the man who reopened the relationship with iran, that that is the surest path to a nobel peace prize that you can imagine. it was certainly true of reagan. the whole ridiculousness of the cake and everything was to reopen that relationship, in addition to getting the hostages out. it was certainly george h dubya bush george h w bush with the rhetoric, which was undermined with the second smaller hostage
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crisis, but nonetheless very real. certainly, bill clinton's policy. we ran around the general the end of 1999 or to havesperately hoping them bump into each other. we were considering dumping coffee on him to get the opportunity. thank god we did not do that idea. w was ironically probably in the best case. he seemingly thought about it briefly before his axis of evile's -- his axis of speech. hisink obama saw this as path to the nobel peace prize. the nobel he got
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peace prize almost before he was inaugurated. he didn't need it, but he still pursued it. i think the jcpoa would be regarded by president obama as not just an iran nuclear deal, but as the steppingstone to a much broader deal, even though administration -- even though the administration said to judge it on its merits. and our current president, despite his rhetoric about getting tough on iran, also to me shows a fascination of the photo op and hopeful that will gain him stature. have drawn iranians the line at a photo op. they might be willing to do other things, but the photo op is the last thing they are willing to do. it is a paradox. what it says to me is that american political leaders would be open to finding a way out,
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but it is a perilous trip. there are a lot of problems. there are a lot of impediments. and one of them suzanne referred to, which is some measure of accountability. it is not just a halfhearted maybe it was not the smartest thing in the world to do a more serious thing than that. it is hard for me to see any iranian government being able to do it. bruce is stealing my lines, but he puts them much better, so it is fine. i totally agree with his comment that the hostage crisis made it easy for the united states to stop worrying about who iran was and how to deal with it. it was an instant solution. they are crazy, barbaric, irrational. what can we do about that? i think that has gotten in the way. if we could get out of that
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narrative, that would help a lot. but i was also going to make a isment that every leader finding some reason to reach out to iran. maybe not for full rapprochement, but leaders on both sides has had an expressed reason to try to reach out to the other side. we've got the american side, the iranian side. agreed to the deals. hard to try to resolve the little hostage crisis that continued into the 1990's, and through his , tried to to berlin create the environment for improved relations with the west in general. even khomeini agreed to some of these steps, even though he regularly spouts the opposite
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idea. course, the letters to the american presidents. on both sides, there have been a string of attempts to reach out. that suggests to me that what is required for an improvement to take place is the discovery of the true need, satisfying mutual needs. they don't even need to be the same needs. iranians and americans have different ideas of what they could get out of iran-contra. the jcpoa is an example of perceived needs being met by just interaction. if then occur environment is in place where the stakes for failure are not so high. they are always higher in iran than in the united states. but if that conducive environment can come about, i think there are possibilities.
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>> we are opening the floor to your questions. the gentleman in the back. can you hear? >> i have a question for mr. burns. you mentioned the film "argo." do you consider that film accurate? >> the countries involved are accurate. [laughter] the dates are accurate. political implications or representations in the film. a lot they took a lot of leeway on. >> it is fiction. what would you say is the message of "argo"? was it that the u.s. was involved -- >> there is that controversy. i don't want to get too deep into the critique of a hollywood
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production, but i know there has been some dispute over who was involved there, and the same kind of thing that comes up in 1953 with every one of these issues. who takes credit and who to explain? show are documents that that contrary to the claims of some canadians that the cia had nothing to do with it that in fact they did have a fair amount to do with it, this notion of creating this fake production company and using that as an excuse to go into iran is something that shows up in the declassified documents. >> i'm sorry. we will get back to you again. next question? yes, please? i'd be curious as to thinking going back toand
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the hostage crisis and the students who participated in that crisis, and how the crisis was used to consolidate power, and the islamist marxists essentially partnering with the religious types to bring down the shah. has there been much study of the m.e.k. today? bolton and other ,eople who supported the m.e.k. or taken money from them. m.e.k. withect the having lost out in the competition for control after the government? did the m.e.k. help bring down the government and then lose out to the religious types? >> suzanne? >> sure.
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look atit is fair to the start of the hostage crisis as the end of the moment in which the nationalists within the revolutionary coalition have a conceivable path forward. it is not a prospect within the coalition. the primaryhem out, cleavage within the revolutionary coalition became between the islamists and particularly the khomeini version of the islamist government, and the m.e.k. and the other marxists who were part of the coalition. there were a variety of groups involved. i think it is important not to isolate particular organizations per se. of course, the full reckoning between the islamists and the
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others does not come until the end of the government. having taken over the presidency and being forced into exile. the violence that then followed, this is an element of the revolutionary story that we tend to gloss over, both because of its historical distance and the distance here in washington, the degree of violence that continued within the leadership, including the terrorist attacks against the parliament, the assassination of the president. and this is not ancient history to the current leadership of the islamic republic. khomeini lost the use of one hand in the attacks. another had been targeted, shot at. the degree to which the
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competition for power during the first several years of the islamic republic was really a full-fledged civil war within the political establishment and in various parts of the country where full control was not reestablished immediately. today, since it moved into exile in 1981, lined itself for the first 20 years with and fought on behalf of saddam hussein during the iran-iraq war. whatever it might have been in the 1970's in the early days after the revolution and what it is today are, to some extent, very different. suggest thatot to in the 1970's or today is a positive force. but it has become increasingly cultlike.
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it benefits from outside support from governments which i cannot and formatively speculate upon. no real resonance among iranians today. it is a strange cultlike front for the interests of foreign powers, and it is a travesty that american politicians from both sides of the political aisle have used it as a cash cow for their own personal advancement. >> thank you. yes? mic?ou wait for the >> excuse me. what could carter have done to avoid admitting the shah to the u.s. when he did? and if he had not admitted him, what do you think might have happened?
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sure there are hospitals in places that could have treated him just as well as in the united states, so it was not a question of medical care. ofwas much more a question somehow reestablishing america's a verywhich i find dubious proposition. those politicians who pressured jimmy carter into taking the shah did their country a great disservice, and one they should have understood at the time was a great disservice. donecarter could have -- but carter could have done one other thing, which is once he made the decision that he was going to let the shah in to evacuate and shutdown the embassy completely. if he, as we now know from both his statements and the memoirs of his staff, believed they were
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at risk, it was a major mistake to leave them there. have been anyt real substantial damage to american-iranian relations at that point, since our access to the iranian government in tehran was quite limited. special emissaries could have gone if we needed to. what was the second part of your question? admittedter had not events do you think -- >> good question. i think relations were headed toward a black hole sooner or later. khomeini, as suzanne has pointed out, was determined to take charge of the train and bring about the kind of regime he wanted, and that was almost
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certainly going to lead to problems with us. but it is conceivable it could have gone in other ways. 1979, even for many years afterward, one of the leading proponents between the united states and iran was the government of israel, which seemed to have faith that staggers belief. the third party wanted to throw the train off course. " have to go back to the "argo question for just one moment. there is one part of the movie that is totally false, and that is the last scene. there was no chase. that was the beauty of the whole operation. i'm sure it was heart pounding, terrorizing to walk into that airport and get the tickets and get on the airplane.
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i cannot imagine a more scary environment than that. the truth is they sailed through the airport. it was easy as could be because they had done such a good job covering their traces and the fact that they were bringing these people out, and because the canadians had been so forthcoming in providing all the paperwork. it is one of the most important dates in u.s.-canadian relations. >> i agree. i did not want to leave the impression that i didn't think the canadians did anything. they certainly were heroic in that. in answer to this question about the shah, just two points. one was that in retrospect, the number of officials believed int timing was really key the question of admitting him, and if he had come straightaway in january, it might have made all the difference because the issue had not bubbled up the way
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months. in subsequent instead, he chose to go to egypt, morocco, etc. another point that was raised in wasr years looking back that there was a debate among state department officials about what to do with the embassy, as bruce was talking about. should they cut back on personnel there? wasanother dog reference attributed to bill sullivan, the ambassador, who said we should cut it down to three men and a dog. mad dog, at -- am that. me put this last question to you in a different way. the hostage crisis and hostage taking happened on the fourth of november. if on the fifth or sixth of sentber, carter would have
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to ayatollahsage khomeini that either you let our people out or we are going to bomb tehran, what was the reaction of the iranians? put your thoughts in that framework of 1979. not tehran as it is today. what do you think? [laughter] then we go down the line. >> again, you ask the toughest questions. i don't know. decisivehad been a response from the united states before the crisis took on a life of its own and before it became clear to khomeini and others
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that it had a real political reason in consolidating their authority, we can speculate that iran when faced with overwhelming force might have sought to preserve its gains and avoided massive destruction. i do think, the question gets to the dilemma that bruce and malcolm described in this debate within the administration's, which was in many ways a legacy of the debate that had been since the revolution began to get underway in iran, which is what should we do about this? brzezinski always favored a tougher approach, looking to find ways to subvert the revolution, and then looking for ways to try to push back forcefully. others within the
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administration concerned about the use of american power and the implications for america's interests in the country before the revolution, concerned about the life and the fate of the hostages. the important aspects of this whole period is the lack of consensus at the very top of american bureaucracy about how to handle the problem of iran. and here we are 40 years later. i think we still have a lack of consensus. >> i am going to give a point in favor of your argument, then agree with suzanne. summer ofin the 1979, there was talk in iran about putting hostages on trial. jimmy carter at the time sent a message to the iranians, not in sayingbut clandestinely, if any hostages were put on
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trial, the u.s. would use military force. as you know, the hostages were never put on trial. there was also an intervening event, the iraqi invasion of iran, which was suddenly an important priority of tehran rather than the question of show trials. that said, i think suzanne has it completely right. there was no consensus in the carter administration in those first 48 hours, or even the first two weeks about what to do. there were very strong differences of opinion. the first 48 hours, i think it is worth remembering, there was widespread assumption that the hostages would be released. they are going to be held for a little while. there will be a lot of stone throwing, and they will be released because that is what any responsible government would do. why would any government want to violate the u.n. conventions and put us down the track of potentially a very dangerous
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situation that could lead to war? andlast thing i would say, it would be interesting to check, i seriously doubt we had the capability in theater in 1979 to respond with a significant military attack on iran. it would have taken a considerable amount of time. in those days, we did not have bases. was deployedahrain . it was not even much of a combat ship. >> i totally agree. this is what prompted the buildup in military capabilities and rapid deployment forces. an even mores powerful force at work that would have prevented anything like this bubbling to the surface, which is the u.s. bureaucracy. when you talk to people who were involved in setting up the clark miller mission, they will remind you that carter did send a
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message with them, a handwritten note to the ayatollah, asking him basically to resolve the crisis. but according to a couple of these folks, it had been so watered down by the time it went through the process and their whole outlook, as one person said tongue-in-cheek, their own themselves to defend -- or create circumstances where there would be a minimum amount of embarrassment when a letter of that sort would leak to "the new york times." it woul was assumed the things would leak. i know you are not being realistic, but i don't think there was any real reality there, no real chance anything like that would ever reach a decision point. >> thank you very much. let's give them a hand. [applause] thank you for coming.
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[captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] announcer: hillary rodham clinton and william weld served on the house judiciary committee during the impeachment inquiry of president richard nixon in 1973 and 1974. american history tv will feature their interviews about their experience next sunday, december 1 at 6:00 p.m. eastern. conducted by former nixon .residential library director a behind-the-scenes perspective on the house judiciary committee's work during the impeachment inquiry. that is next sunday at 6:00 p.m. eastern, here on american history tv, only on c-span3. american: announcer: history tv products are now available at the new c-span online store. go to c-span to see what is new for american history
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tv, and check out all of the c-span products. announcer: you can watch archival films on public affairs each week on our series "reel america." saturday at 10:00 p.m. and sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv. here is a quick look at one of our recent programs. ♪ >> a few days before tragic death comes to president john f. kennedy, he and the first lady the picture of happiness. their children, john junior and caroline, are to mark their birthdays after the president returns from a trip to texas. arriving in dallas on the morning of the fatal day, he and
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misses kennedy are greeted by vice president johnson and the mayor of dallas. john f. kennedy has been president two years, 10 months, two days. ♪ they ride in the familiar presidential limousine. because the weather has turned fair, the transparent top has been removed. from a fifth floor window at 12:30 p.m. come the rifle shots that bring death to president kennedy and seriously wound governor connolly of texas. ♪ the 35ths later, president of the united states lies dead in a nearby hospital. the presidential limousine bears the marks of violent death. the flowers misses kennedy carried from the airport are
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twisted and torn. shock and disbelief give way to tears. ♪ world'son and the reaction is one of be willed or meant and grief. at the dallas airport 99 minutes after mr. kennedy's death, vice president lyndon b. johnson, his wife at his side, and the grief stricken widow with them, takes the presidential oath aboard the jet, which brings him and the body of the late president dr. washington -- the body of the late president back to washington. lyndon johnson becomes the 36th president. john f. kennedy chose him as his deputy. together, they were elected by the american people. falls all the weight of leadership.
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>> this is a sad time for all people. we have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. for me, it is a deep, personal tragedy. i know that the world shares kennedy and of mrs. her family. i will do my best. that is all i can do. help and god's. ♪ the nation, the world mourns john fitzgerald kennedy. the funeral moves from the white house to the capital, seat of the congress of the united states.
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films can watch archival our weeklyppears on series real america. saturday at 10:00 p.m. and sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv. announcer: next, professor timothy shannon teaches a class on colonial era diplomatic ties between the iroquois confederacy and european settlers. he describes what treaty meetings would have looked like, the role of interpreters, and the importance of exchanging gifts. timothy: welcome, everyone. today, we are going to talk about diplomacy on the early american frontier between native americanpl


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