On Sunday night, Jack Nicholson and First Lady, Michelle Obama, announced that Ben Affleck’s acclaimed film Argo about the rescue of six American diplomats during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis had won the 2012 Oscar for “best picture.”
The next day, retired diplomats and former hostages in Iran in 1979, Ambassador Bruce Laingen and Ambassador John Limbert called for renewed diplomacy with Iran to heal old wounds and open up channels of dialogue on shared interests with the goal of preventing war and a nuclear-armed Iran.
Ambassador Laingen was the U.S. Chief of Mission to Tehran when the embassy was overrun and he was taken hostage for 444 days (November 4, 1979 – January 20, 1981) In his comments, Amb. Laingen remembered his words to the senior Iranian hostage taker at Mehrabad airport: “I look forward to the day when your country and mine can again have a normal, diplomatic relationship.” Those are the last words spoken by an American diplomat to an Iranian official in Iran for more than 32 years.
He told Beth Parker of FOX 5 that he hopes Argo will help bring people together to supporting opening dialogue with Iran. “The more we are encouraged to talk about it because of this film, the better. It highlights the important role that I dedicated my life to — diplomacy, interaction between people to further our respective interests.”
Amb. Laingen was joined by Ambassador John Limbert who was serving as political officer when he was taken hostage in 1979. Amb. Limbert told Parker that the experience renewed his commitment to diplomacy. “I became probably much more committed to the profession of foreign service and diplomacy because we were a living example of what happens when that system breaks down. The alternative — I can tell you from the inside — is not pretty.”
Amb. Limbert continued his career in the foreign service after his ordeal in Tehran including as US Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and the first-ever Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran under President Barack Obama.
Having most recently served as the senior adviser to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton on Iran, Amb. Limbert’s insight on Washington’s impasse with Tehran provides a unique context for the Administration’s position. He told Suzanne Kennedy of WJLA, “I hope and pray that time will let us begin a dialogue with each other. I feel strongly about that.”
Amb. Limbert provided an alternative plan to dealing with Iran, suggesting that America find consensus on shared interests before moving forward on addressing the nuclear issue. He said, “If the nuclear issue may be just too politically difficult, then sustained negotiations on other issues – still starting small – will be the most effective way to start the countries on a new path of diplomatic engagement after three futile decades of trading insults, threats, and empty slogans.”
Brig. General John Johns had intended to join the ambassadors to highlight the lack of a military option to resolve the nuclear issue with Iran but was unable to attend. He did release a statement which stated: “Let me make this clear: There is no military solution to Iran’s nuclear program. If the U.S. were to conduct a strike campaign, it would not be a one-time show and would take several weeks. Likely, the strike would only set the program back a few years but greatly risk American and Israeli security.”
In regards to the P5+1 talks that are occurring in Amity, Kazakhstan this week, Limbert said there would be an 8th party in addition to the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council (US, Russia, France, UK and China,) Germany and Iran. That 8th party would be the ghosts of 1979. These ghosts, he claimed, have derailed previous efforts to renew diplomacy with Tehran.
Amb. Laingen shared the sentiment saying, “Tearing down the wall of mistrust will not be easy, but brick by brick, every step toward that goal advances the national security interests of the U.S. and Israel and other allies in the region, which are threatened by the specter of another war in the powder keg of the Middle East.”