Nov 1, 1979
Well this has been another one of these special sort of days in Iran... a day that had us worried but that turned out not so bad after all.
It was Eid-e-Gorban, an Islamic holiday celebrating the feast of sacrifice. And being such, there was a large sermon and prayer meeting scheduled here and in most of the cities of Iran. Well enough, but the day also concluded with a growing surge of government and clerical stimulated criticism of the U.S. for our admission of the Shah for medical treatment in New York.
And so, the Eid celebrations also became a day to mount a strong public agitation against us. Here in Tehran it had been announced that after the big rally in the south of the city the crowd would move in procession to the U.S. Embassy where speeches against us would be delivered and where slogans would be mounted.
So we were prepared for up to a million demonstrators in the streets around the Embassy. That meant getting all non-essential personnel off the compound, the marines concentrated inside the Chancery to protect it, and those of us who were needed inside the Chancery -- among other reasons to destroy records and comm equipment if we were again invaded and to keep in touch with Washington by phone and cable ... And also to keep in touch with the local government authorities to be sure that we had some kind of protection from them. The marines of course were in battle dress and eager to defend the place...
But all of that proved unnecessary in the end, happily. Late last evening it was announced on the radio that the procession would not go all the way to the Embassy, but that instead it would go to a square about a mile or so south of here where the speeches against us would be heard and the slogans adopted.
The reason being that the distance was far; it was Eid holiday and time was needed for prayers and visits with families.
Nevertheless we stuck to our contingency plans, and by 0900 we had our demonstrators, but much fewer in numbers. The group, possibly organized by the Communist party here, started at about 50 and eventually grew to about 4,000....
Their tactics seemed to be to keep us off balance and worried all day, since they stuck with us until about four in the afternoon, marching back and forth around our compound, chanting slogans and shaking their fists against us all the while. (We've decided that for the next week anyone who shows up at the consulate and asks for a visa with a sore throat will be rejected on the spot!)
The crowd included a lot of women in Chadors and even some children in trollers. At no time did they try to come over the walls but they did manage to spray a lot more graffiti on our walls... We had enough as it was from previous demonstrations!
We kept in touch with worried Washington by telephone and stuck it out. The only real trouble developed late in the afternoon as the thing was winding up... One of our security officers decided to take down a large cloth banner that had been put up on the large iron grill gates at the Embassy's ceremonial entrance...
The banner said something derogatory about Carter and praised Komeini... Well, some of the last of the crowd saw what was happening and didn't like it at all... In fact the crowd got very angry and got the Iranian police (about 45-50 were guarding the embassy today, unarmed, and had been pretty good about keeping the crowd moving...) to join them (!) in demanding that the banner be put back on the gate... We said OK, provided it was hung somewhere else.
Nothing doing, said they, and if we didn't cooperate they were coming over the walls. Well by that time we decided we would not stand on our pride if it meant turning the police against us. So the banner went back up (much to the disgust of our marines) and there was another hour of angry slogans against us... but no violence...
That was it, except for a brief flurry this evening when large crowds leaving a sports stadium nearby paraded past us, yelling more angry slogans. Again we retreated to the chancery, but it proved brief, over in about 15 minutes.
You probably wonder what triggered all of this, though I suspect you know. Guess I mentioned it above... the Shah. There is mounting irritation over this and we are in for some trouble if the Shah stays on for further treatment on an out-patient basis.
We have emphasized, at the highest levels here short of the Ayatollah, that our admission of the Shah was entirely on a humanitarian basis; we regard him without any political authority in Iran; we deal with the present government; we respect and support Iran's independence and territorial integrity; we have reminded the Shah's party that he cannot engage in political activity while in the U.S., etc., etc.
But that has not satisfied either the government or the press, which sees some other purpose on our part in what we have done; regards the Shah as the basest of criminals and wants him here for trial.
Where this will all end is unclear at the present but we are going to have some heavy weather for a while I fear, especially if he remains in the U.S. for extended treatment. Pity, because up to now we had been making some progress, however slowly, in getting confidence here, in what is a real uphill struggle.
But not everything has been trouble... We've tried to continue reasonably normal lives when we can. The [diplomatic] Community has organized a volleyball league ("Laingen's Invitational Volleyball Series"); we've lost tennis matches to both the Italian and the British Embassies, and we've had a splendid Halloween dance, the latter organized by the young people of the [US Embassy] Defense Attache Office.
The weather cooperated, as we could put tables out on the terraces and we were able to have something more than 250 people for a magnificent dinner prepared by our amazing Italian cook and dancing again until three in the morning. They organized dance concerts... disco, waltz, polka, and slow... and a great time was had by all.
In fact, we are becoming celebrated in the diplomatic community for the parties at this embassy. Never fear, we are discreet too. The Residence is far enough from the the street so that we do not disturb the Islamic fundamentalists... A few Iranians come, but mainly it is the diplomatica and private community... all of which are frankly starved for such "taghooti" (corrupt) entertainment because none of it is available in the city... Although there is a rumour going around that there is dancing occasionally at the roof restaurant of the Sheraton Hotel...
There are a good number of hotels here but most of them have about 10-20% occupancy, given the total absence of tourists. And some of the hotels have been taken over by students this past week, grumbling about the absence of dormitory space... This poor government! It has so many problems on its hands and it is very reluctant to offend the students who after all had so much to do with the overthrow of the Shah.
Nothing further has developed on the question of the assignment of an ambassador here... Again the time is a bit inappropriate, given the ruckus over the Shah... So I don't know where things stand at the moment...
I was asked recently to take an assignment as Consul General in Jerusalem, but I have asked to be removed from consideration for that job... It seems very peripheral to the main activity in the Middle East, what with our Embassies in Tel Aviv, Cairo, and Amman very much in the act, not to mention all the other players like Straus and all the other cast of characters...
It would have been a comfortable place to live perhaps, but not all that good for school for Jim, a prime consideration affecting wherever we go next in this transient life that is the Foreign Service of the United States...
PS: We called on a leading mullah at the senate building last week -- an interesting conversation with a man deeply suspicious of us but apparently prepared to listen, recognizing that Iran has problems not dealing with us.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the call was the 12-14 year old girl who saw our black Chrysler limousine waiting outside and who asked my security officer, "Who's car is this?" When told it was the American Charge she said, "... but I thought all the Americans had left... We're going to chase them out!" She's not representative, but what she said says something about the impact of some of the propaganda heard in much of the press -- propaganda that some of its proponents genuinely mean and which others express for effect.