206. Memorandum for the Files1


  • Conversation with Secretary General Waldheim


  • UN
  • Secretary General Waldheim
  • Rafii Ahmed, Executive Secretary to the SYG
  • Diego Cordovez, Secretary of the Commission
  • US
  • Secretary Cyrus Vance
  • Ambassador vanden Heuvel
  • Arnold Raphel, Notetaker

Secretary Vance and the Secretary General met to discuss the Commission’s visit to Tehran and consider where we go from here on the hostage issue. Waldheim led off the conversation by sharing some thoughts on “personalities” to give us an understanding of the dynamics of the Commission. It was obvious that Waldheim’s impressions were based on extensive conversations with Bedjaoui. His assessment of the members of the Commission, their relative strengths and weaknesses, and the role they played in Tehran was in large measure a reflection of Bedjaoui’s views.

Waldheim noted that Bedjaoui was “quite confident” that the issue would be resolved sooner rather than later. The special treatment Bedjaoui received from Bani-Sadr, whom he met with alone two times, obviously irritated the other members of the Commission, especially Co-Chairman Aguilar. Waldheim noted that Bani-Sadr and Bedjaoui had many affinities, both being “children of the revolutions.” The Secretary General, as illustrative of the tensions within the Commission, explained at some length why the Commission left when it did. He noted that Bedjaoui wanted to stay one day more, as requested by Bani-Sadr and Qotbzadeh, on the assumption that the two Iranians could deliver on their promise to move the issue forward. The other four Commission members, especially Aguilar, were very skeptical, however, and insisted the Commission leave when it did. Aguilar went [Page 539]so far as to say he would resign if the Commission chose to stay in Tehran.

Waldheim said that Bedjaoui characterized his fellow Commission members as follows: Aguilar was very outspoken, emotional and difficult to work with. He also did not understand the unusual political dynamics in Iran. Pettiti was deeply afraid from the beginning of the mission and his one overriding goal was to get out of Iran. Jayewardene was “very honest and nice but living in the clouds.” Bedjaoui contended he had no political understanding and did not appreciate that in an unusual situation one must act unusually. He believed that Daoudy was honest, cooperative but ill for some of the time and therefore did not play an important role. Waldheim concluded his comments on the personalities of the Commission members by noting that the real problem was the Bedjaoui-Aguilar split.

On the substance of the mission, Waldheim said that on Thursday2 everyone was quite optimistic. The students were ready to transfer authority for the hostages to the government. The Imam had received Bani-Sadr but refused to see representatives of the students. Over the next three days, however, something happened, and Khomeini changed his position saying the Commission would first have to issue a statement on Iran’s grievances castigating the Shah and the American role in Iran.

Waldheim said that although we did not know specifically what happened in the three days, he and the Commission members pieced together the following: Waldheim believes the fundamental mistake made by Bani-Sadr and Qotbzadeh is that they did not arrange to transfer authority immediately upon the students’ announcement on Thursday that they would give up the hostages. Instead there was a delay and on Friday, a holiday, the students organized demonstrations in front of the Embassy. On Saturday, Khomeini issued a statement which did not contain any mention of the transfer of the hostages. Monday morning, in an attempt to get reconfirmation of Khomeini’s position, Qotbzadeh went to see the Iman and asked him to order the immediate transfer of authority. After the meeting with Khomeini, Qotbzadeh came to see the Commission members and was, for the first time, accompanied by Revolutionary Council Spokesman Habibi. The Commission members thought this was a disquieting change since Habibi had become a hard-liner on the hostage issue. Qotbzadeh told the Commission members that Khomeini would issue a statement on Tuesday which would demand that the Commission, before seeing all [Page 540]the hostages, issue a statement condemning the Shah and American interference in Iran.

In an attempt to head this off, the Commission planned to see Bani-Sadr and ask him to tell the Imam that such a statement would be unacceptable. As the Commission members were leaving the hotel Monday morning to see Bani-Sadr, however, Khomeini’s statement had already been made.3 According to Waldheim this was the final straw; most Commission members were angered and lost confidence in the word of their Iranian interlocutors.

When the Commission members met with Bani-Sadr, he said he disagreed with Khomeini’s statement and suggested that the Commission stay on for one to two days to see whether the issue could be worked out. The Commission was adamant in its intention to leave and went to a meeting with Qotbzadeh to inform him that they would depart on Tuesday morning. Qotbzadeh told the Commission members that Bourguet had just called with a new formula and suggested the Commission stay on for 24–48 hours.

The Commission agreed that Bedjaoui could then meet alone with Bani-Sadr and Bourguet to discuss the new scenario, which was as follows: within 24 hours the Commission would (1) meet with the Revolutionary Council; (2) meet with the Imam, accompanied by Bani-Sadr; (3) issue a joint communiqué which would, inter alia, condemn the Shah and the United States; (4) see the hostages at the Embassy. The Commission responded that this was not acceptable. Qotbzadeh made one last attempt to turn the Commission around at 11:00 p.m. on Monday night, but the Commission remained firm and departed on Tuesday morning.4

The Secretary asked whether the Commission had completed work on the first part of its mandate. Waldheim responded that no report has yet been prepared. The Commission believes it has heard all it needs to and all that remains is to put the report together.

In response to the question of how we proceed, Waldheim said he had discussed this with Bedjaoui who noted that Bani-Sadr had told him that the matter would be settled soon—perhaps in ten days to two weeks (by March 21st or 22nd). Bani-Sadr implied it is not necessary to wait for the establishment of Parliament; he may be able to move after the first round of elections on Friday. This is predicated, however, on Bani-Sadr’s expectation of strong support from the electorate. With this new mandate he could go to the Imam and get a favorable decision on the hostages. Bedjaoui therefore feels that the Commission should [Page 541]perhaps return just before the 21st and arrange for transfer of the hostages over the Iranian holidays.

Waldheim’s own view was that we should wait and see how the elections turn out and then look at setting a date for the return of the Commission. Waldheim closed the conversation by noting, a point later made by the Commission members, that in their last conversation with Qotbzadeh, the Foreign Minister told the Commission that it would be welcome back but not with the same composition. Both Bedjaoui and Aguilar said that this comment may have been a result of fatigue and discouragement on Qotbzadeh’s part and a reflection of his own mercurial personality. They did not see it as a definitive Iranian request to change the makeup of the Commission. Both felt, however, that it was an issue that must be reviewed before the Commission makes plans to return to Iran.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Office of the Chief of Staff, Jordan’s Confidential Files, Box 2. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in Waldheim’s office. Vance also met with all the members of the Commission after concluding his meeting with Waldheim. (Memorandum of Conversation, March 12; ibid)
  2. March 6.
  3. See Document 203.
  4. March 11.