OPINION SEPTEMBER 29, 2009, 7:20 P.M. ET
We’ve Been Talking to Iran for 30 Years
The seizure of the U.S. embassy followed the failure of Carter administration talks with Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime.
By MICHAEL LEDEEN
The Obama administration’s talks with Iran—set to take place tomorrow in Geneva—are accompanied by an almost universally accepted misconception: that previous American administrations refused to negotiate with Iranian leaders. The truth, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last October at the National Defense University, is that “every administration since 1979 has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed.”
After the fall of the shah in February 1979, the Carter administration attempted to establish good relations with the revolutionary regime. We offered aid, arms and understanding. The Iranians demanded that the United States honor all arms deals with the shah, remain silent about human-rights abuses carried out by the new regime, and hand over Iranian “criminals” who had taken refuge in America. The talks ended with the seizure of the American Embassy in November.
President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. will seek economic sanctions against Iran, Dec. 21, 1979. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance looks on.
The Reagan administration—driven by a desire to gain the release of the American hostages—famously sought a modus vivendi with Iran in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War during the mid-1980s. To that end, the U.S. sold weapons to Iran and provided military intelligence about Iraqi forces. High-level American officials such as Robert McFarlane met secretly with Iranian government representatives to discuss the future of the relationship. This effort ended when the Iran-Contra scandal erupted in late 1986.