Bill in Iran

One of the few times in my diplomatic career that I felt myself at considerable personal risk was in the summer of 1982 when I made two journeys to Tehran. Diplomatic relations between our two countries were in suspense as a result of the so-called ‘Canadian Caper’ when Ambassador Ken Taylor and his crew had spirited six Americans out of Iran, much to the fury of Ayatollah Khomeini and his fellow revolutionaries. (…)

At the Foreign Ministry I was ushered past military checkpoints and offices filled with sombre secretaries in black chadors to the Bureau for the Americas and Europe. The whole atmosphere was bleak, like the rest of the city where economic activity seemed to have been frozen by the Revolution. Construction cranes towered over the city – all of them inactive. The Director General, who was to serve as my principal contact throughout, was a young, intense and rather fierce looking man about twenty-five years of age by the name of Sadr. I was given to understand that his main qualification for the job was the fact that he had been one of the student leaders of the Revolutionary Guard in the takeover of the U.S. embassy. In the crazy disturbed world of Iranian politics, this seemed logical enough. I expected a good dressing down and was not disappointed. (…)

I just plugged my ears and let him get on with the rant. I reasoned that it was as well to let the Iranians purge themselves of the venom and vitriol in their spleen. My young interlocutor did a good job of this. He began his diatribe more or less at the beginning of the universe and then, as in a James Michener novel, worked his way through the glorious history of the Persian peoples and their empire, right up to the contemporary, godless perfidy of Canada, the ‘little Satan’. With my somewhat warped sense of humour, I found the whole thing a little bit funny and had to restrain myself from smiling on one or two occasions at malevolent descriptions of the Canadian government that even our parliamentary opposition might have found difficult to swallow! We were, Dr. Sadr said, puppets of the U.S., collaborators in counter-revolutionary activity and, what was beyond the pale, purveyors of Zionist influence. The Foreign Ministry, he said, took particular offence at Ambassador Taylor’s ‘betrayal’ since the Ministry had been putting trust in him as an intermediary.Tehran


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