AMERICAN HOSTAGES IN IRAN: The Conduct of a Crisis by Warren & Others Christopher
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AMERICAN HOSTAGES IN IRAN: The Conduct of a Crisis

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Six insiders review US government handling of the Iranian hostage crisis--concluding that 1) the hostages were held as long, and only as long, as they were useful in consolidating Khomeini's Islamic revolution; 2) the US government, in the dark on these matters, did about as well as it could with the combination of secret negotiations (through French and Argentinian contacts, West German banks, Tunisian intermediaries), economic sanctions, and military threats--with the reservations that Carter might better have downplayed his role and shifted crisis-management from the National Security Council to a small task force (as was eventually done). In the introductory remarks by Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who conducted the successful negotiations, in the account of the crisis and diplomatic responses to it by State Department official Harold Saunders, head of the Iran Working Group, and in the military perspective provided by NSC Iran-advisor Gary Sick (whose own, full-length report is reviewed below), the difficulties at each turn are laid out in detail. Fundamentally (Sick): ""It was an uneven contest""--Khomeini had only to hold the hostages to gain his ends (he didn't need to execute or even try them), while the US could not risk war to free them (though it could, and did, stop talk of execution by threatening reprisals). Economic sanctions--evaluated by Treasury Department officials Harold Carswell and Richard D. Davis--probably ""did have a considerable, albeit delayed, impact, but perhaps not a decisive one."" (American allies did not impose effective trade sanctions, and nonallied states imposed none at all Blocking Iranian dollar accounts was possible because of US banks' extraterritorial reach--but could put the banks at competitive disadvantage.) In any case, ""the bankers' channel""--described by Citibank attorney John E. Hoffman, Jr.--not only kept negotiations open, but played an unsuspectedly major role in bringing about a settlement. This, indeed, is the book's chief revelation. External commentaries are provided by Columbia U. scholar Oscar Schachter, on the international law implications, and political alder Abraham Ribicoff, on the domestic ramifications. (Ribicoff seconds Christopher on the benefits of a task force.) Allowing for some self-interest, the assembled testimonies do demonstrate to can-do Americans the limits of precipitate action.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1985
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press