Following the victory of Ben Affleck's Argo at the Oscars, two survivors of the Iranian hostage crisis, Ambassador Bruce Laingen and Ambassador John Limbert, took to Capitol Hill calling for greater and broader diplomacy with the country that held them hostage for 444 days.
In 1979, Bruce Laingen, of Bethesda, was the U.S. Chief of Mission in Tehran when the U.S. embassy was overtaken and the embassy staff taken hostage.
Ambassador Laingen called from diplomacy between the U.S. and the country the held him hostage, Iran, citing how diplomacy set himself and his colleagues free. “It was only through the Carter Administration’s sustained, committed, and resolute diplomacy that the Algiers Accord was negotiated, that secured our freedom.”
His calls for diplomacy were echoed by Ambassador John Limbert, of Arlington. Ambassador Limbert served as political officer to Tehran during the hostage crisis and later as a U.S. Ambassador to Mauritania and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran under President Barack Obama.
Ambassador Limbert reflected on the failed diplomatic efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear weapons program. In Ambassador Limbert’s assessment, “the nuclear issue may be just too politically difficult.” He called for “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.”
He said, “To move forward, we must stop holding all questions hostage to agreement on the nuclear issue. Such an approach guarantees failure.” He called for an expanded agenda between the U.S. and Iran highlighting shared interests, including the free and uninhibited transport of goods in the Persian goal.
Both ambassadors called for the U.S. to face the reality of the situation that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the only party with whom the U.S. can negotiate a solution. Both cited that insanity and ‘ridiculousness’ that for an American diplomat to engage with an Iranian diplomat requires the specific permission of the Secretary of State.
Ambassador Limbert called for “[a] U.S. commitment to the diplomatic process…not depend on our approval of this or that Iranian action. The Islamic Republic, like it or not, is what it is and we have things to talk about, even if we are not friends.”
Ambassador Laingen quoted former Israeli military commander Moshe Dayan who said, "if you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”
Ambassador Laingen continued, “negotiating with adversaries to advance U.S. interests through a process of mutual compromise is what game-changing diplomacy is all about, and it is how diplomacy can save lives and set people free.”
The event was hosted by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Friends Committee on National Legislation and National Iranian American Council; the room was schedule through the office of Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13.)