John Limbert is a former American hostage. He is also one of several former hostages who have spoken out arguing that the US should engage in negotiations with Iran. John and Parvaneh met in Iran in their mid- twenties, got married and had their children in Iran. John Limbert did not just fall in love with an Iranian woman but with the country and its people, though naturally he felt differently after he was taken hostage.
John has written numerous articles and a book, , she has said that they were not trained for this type of work, they were just intellectuals.)
I said what a shame. You had something good going. Enghelabe khubi dashtin. Ama kharabesh kardin (You had a good revolution but you destroyed it). They were playing games. This was while a new administration was taking office in the US.
It was the night before, 19th January.
We were given medical exams. I had lost 25 pounds. It was a reaction to stress. There were times when I thought they might kill us. They wanted to interview with us before releasing us. The Algerian delegation was involved. We knew that, now that diplomats were involved, it was serious. Jimmy carter had lost the November elections.
Would you be inclined to talk to any of your captors? As you know many have now become reformists, like Abdi*, like Seyyed Musavi Khoeeneha, and they sort of tobeh kardand? (They have repented.)
Voice of America has requested many interviews but I am not interested to talk to them in a public setting, maybe privately. We have had a class action law suit now for 7-8 years against the government of Iran, but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Our own government allied with the Islamic Republic. During the Clinton–Albright era, there was lots of talk about negotiation but with conditions from both sides.
One reason: Iranians may believe they can get a better deal from Republicans. It’s all about oil and business at the end.
FA: What were the conditions for your release?
JL: Return the frozen assets and unblock the escrow. Pledge not to interfere in affairs of Iran and return the Shah’s assets.
FA: But was any of that done? To my knowledge none of it materialized so why did they release you anyway?
JL: On September 9, 1980 the German Ambassador in Washington told Muskie that the Iranians – via Sadeq Tabataba’i had three conditions for our release.
– Unfreeze Iranian assets
– A pledge of non-intervention in Iran’s internal affairs
– An attempt to return assets of Shah.
Three days later, Khomeini announced these conditions at the end of a long speech. He also added the cancellation of American claims against Iran. Between September 15 and 17 Tabataba’i and Deputy Secretary of State Christopher met in Bonn to discuss these terms. Working out the details took four months. I think that all were met in some form. At least Iran could claim that they were.
FA: Would you want to go back to Iran someday? And would you want an apology?
You spent 444 days of your life in custody, never knowing if you would be released dead or alive? How do you feel about this?
JL: I want to go to Iran but I won’t raise it. No one needs to apologize to me and no one has; if they should apologize they should apologize to you, to Iranians. They didn’t solve anything. They want respect but if they get it they don’t know what to do with it.
There was personal resentment of Carter for his support of the Shah and Khomeini exploited the situation.
For negotiations you need compromise on both fronts. But they know only how to lash out at each other. It’s not easy or pleasant. It’s been going on for 30 years. So far, no real progress has been made.
FA: And now you say we should negotiate. You have written a paper and are working on a book? Why negotiations?
JL: It’s a personal issue for me. If we hadn’t negotiated in 1980 and 1981, who knows what would have happened, maybe I’d still be in Tehran. We must negotiate for the benefit of both nations. I have written a paper about this and a forthcoming book. I give all my reasoning for the sake of negotiations.
FA: Iranians in general believe in many of the conspiracy theories surrounding the events that shape their history. In a recent published book titled the Untold Aspects of the Iranian Revolution, 2008, Mr. Abbas Amirentezam, the Deputy Prime Minister under Mehdi Bazargan and Iran’s longest held political prisoner, says that the American government and the CIA were indirectly involved in and benefited from the Embassy take over? What is your opinion?
JL: As I have said in my article, “remember that conspiracy theories have great currency-and are sometimes true.” Although, I do not believe that the Iranian Revolution was the product of a Western alliance to get rid of the Shah, I believe to some extent, Iranians having been “subject tohistorical forces out of their control or comprehension, have some reasons to believe in such theories. …’ ‘these forces were never benevolent and were willing to use violence, terror, bribery and subversion-including recruiting Iranian agents –in pursing of their ends and in destroying Iranians’ attempts to control their own destiny”. However, in this case, I do not think our government was clever enough to do such a thing. And to what end anyway?
*Amirentezam’s spouse, Elaheh, (see photo) in a letter accuses Abbas Abdi of playing up the allegations against her husband which subsequently led to the charges that resulted in his incarceration. She writes: “Mr. Abdi’s view that Amirentezam has committed a crime for which he must face a sentence is very questionable….. The judiciary has never used the term political crime, and today, even 20 years later, there is no real definition as such. Mr. Abdi knows that the charges were one-sided and fabricated by the students, the followers of Imam’s line. These charges were made 18 years ago by him and their friends. At that time, in an unjust court of law, my husband was handed down a sentence without a jury, without a defense attorney. He could not defend himself against these accusations. In reality, one cannot condemn the actions of a youngster who was responsible for this plan and who himself was one of the perpetrators at the time, but today he must answer and be accountable for his past actions. …. ..I suggest to Mr. Abdi , to once and for all, in his time of solitude, be truthful to himself and reflect on his past actions, the ones he and his friends undertook in that small room at the Embassy in December 1979 by degrading , insulting and using anti-human and violent actions against my husband. In addition, Mr. Abdi and his colleagues and those with the same mindset, should be accountable. They should realize that while the basis of a new [democratic] society was being formed, by committing these illegal actions, they helped to contribute and grow the seeds of violence, hatred and friction in our society. How is it that now they all talk about the rule of law and are against violence? Mr. Abdi must be held accountable and he should realize that there are some wrongs that cannot be eradicated or forgotten. In an attempt to change their ways, they [the new reformists] should be aware that it takes a long time to reap what they sowed….
Elsewhere he says: if these allegations were incorrect and baseless, then the Americans would have reacted in some way!”
From a letter by Elaheh Mizani Amirentezam to the editor of Arya Newspaper, Esfand 1377 Feb/March 1998- No 168 – in Untold aspects of the Iranian Revolution: Conversation between Roozbeh Mirebrahimi and Abbas Amirentezam (Paris, Khavaran, 2008) pp. 337-338
* Note from the translator, F. Amini: Abbas Abdi believed that under the circumstances, a sentence of five years would have been justified for Abbas Amirentezam. Abbas Amirentezam has spent more than two decades of his life in and out of prison and has never been given a public trial or been vindicated.
* Terence O’Donnell -1924-2001- was a self educated American who traveled the world and ended up in Iran in 1960. He stayed there for 15 years, teaching English in Isfahan and Shiraz. He rented and settled in a rundown estate and made it into a prosperous farm and lived there alone only with his assistant Mamdali and his family. He wrote thousands of pages of journals which later turned into many books and articles among them Garden of the Brave in War and Seven Shades of Memory. In reviewing the latter, someone wrote the following: “As a person who also lived in Iran in the 1970’s, I was particularly interested in the stories in this book. However, it would be of interest to anyone because the stories are evocative and the prose style is simple yet stunningly beautiful. This book is an absolute gem.”
O’Donnell later went back to his hometown of Portland and was active in the Oregon Historical Society. He died in March 2001. When he became ill, he was told that the Iranian American community in Portland wanted to honor him by dedicating a plaque in his name. He first hesitated but then he accepted the gesture and said that they can write the following on it: “He was a friend of the Persians.” The plaque now adorns a park near the small apartment where he lived. Terence O’Donnell was an American who loved Iran and the Iranian people until the very end.
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