207. Telegram From the Embassy in Switzerland to the Department of State1
1455. For the Secretary From Saunders and Precht. Subj: First Meeting With B and V.
1. (S) Entire text.
2. Please pass to the White House Eyes Only for the President and Dr. Brzezinski.
3. Summary: Our initial meetings with B and V Wednesday2 concentrated on their analysis of how the situation evolved in Tehran over the past 17 days while the UN Commission was there and, to a lesser extent, on how we move ahead from here. We will begin at breakfast Thursday to talk through how they see the next steps. In the near term, they believe it important that the Commission still visit the hostages, but they now see that visit taking place after the transfer of the hostages to government hands. They report both Bani-Sadr and Ghotbzadeh as believing that transfer can take place within 7–14 days after the first round of the parliamentary elections March 14. They interpret the events of the past few days—despite our pressing the argument that [Page 542]the militants seem to have won—as reflecting a decisive turn in the tide against the militants, thereby setting the stage for transfer as part of the consolidation of governmental authority. Finally, we believe we now have reasonably firm indication that Metrinko is alive and physically sound. End summary.
4. During conversations from roughly noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday B and V appeared generally more optimistic than in our previous meetings or than would appear to us to be justified by recent events. While they are not willing to concede credit to Commission members, it seems apparent that any change in the actual situation in Tehran results from the continuing presence and pressure of the Commission in Iran. B and V believe the public mood is definitely turning against the militants and they cite recent statements by Ghotbzadeh, Bani-Sadr and Khomeini’s elder brother, Ayatollah Pasandideh, as evidence that the leadership is now willing to attack the militants with Khomeini’s approval and to guide public opinion against them. They give a positive interpretation to Khomeini’s statement of March 10,3 suggesting that Khomeini was attempting to facilitate the work of the Commission—but could not appear to be less anti-American than normal in doing so.
5. B and V expect popular feeling against the militants to rise because of their attacks on respected revolutionary leaders, their efforts to confront the government and the widespread belief only Communists benefit from militant attacks. Khomeini does not approve such tactics and is bound to find ways to undercut the militants. B and V think Bani-Sadr will do well in the March 14 voting and believe this is the basis for his personal message to President Carter that the hostages will be moved to government control within 15 days if not sooner after the election.4 Last night Ghotbzadeh privately told B and V that he believed—but was not absolutely sure—that the transfer would probably take place within a week after March 14 vote. The margin of doubt that this would not occur was very small. B and V think Ghotbzadeh was completely honest and sincere in this statement.
6. We recognize that optimism may represent little more than the hope of our deeply committed friends and Bani-Sadr and Ghotbzadeh. Nevertheless, we shall be exploring ways to attempt to bind the Iranians to the predictions in our conversations that follow. We shall attempt to work out a step-by-step scenario covering the 7–14 days after the elections as a basis for thinking about where we go from here in the light of the new timetable.[Page 543]
7. B and V acknowledge that it is difficult to say where the scenario stands until the Iranians themselves decide to transfer the hostages. They believe it is imperative for Bani-Sadr to resolve this issue, and we should give him a little time to work this out, having brought the issue to a head. This has become primarily a domestic Iranian matter at this stage, and B and V do not recommend any action by us. They fear some outside actions would drive the Iranians together instead of allowing them further to isolate the militants. They believe a final scenario is needed to take account at the start of the fact that the transfer of the hostages should under present circumstances take place before the Commission’s visit to the hostages. They urge a continued low-key posture in the US as long as possible.
8. The main element of the scenario discussed Wednesday, of course, was the future of the UN Commission. B and V believe the Commission must be maintained and must finish its tasks. Although they continue to believe that the Commission interpreted its mandate too literally and did not exercise the flexibility to take advantage of developments—at least a debatable point—they felt the Commission’s presence was a positive factor. But B and V feel strongly that Commission members should not state publicly that transfer of the hostages is a precondition for the Commission’s return. Both B and V agree, however, that transfer is, in fact, a precondition. They believe the Commission must fulfill its mandate by visiting the hostages after their transfer because the visit is important to government efforts to consolidate its grip on the situation and to reduce the power of the militants—both moves are essential in paving the way for release of the hostages. They also urge that the Commission should at least be organizing and assembling elements of its report. They recall that the original scenario5 envisioned the Commission telling the Council that it was ready to report but that no report would have credibility while the hostages were being held in intolerable conditions. B and V feel that some such statement—perhaps coupled with some comments on the grievances they have heard—will be important in strengthening the hands of the Revolutionary Council against those who may try to block eventual release of the hostages.
9. When the transfer of the hostages occurs, the current plan is that the 50 will initially be lodged in the Foreign Ministry. At that time they will no longer be known as “hostages”, but will become “persons under the protection of the Iranian Government”. It is possible that after 5–6 days the 50 may be moved to more suitable quarters, e.g., either on a military base or in a hotel. B and V have been thinking [Page 544]about an Iranian gesture which would send Laingen and Tomseth home at some early point. They were not particularly encouraged in this thought by Ghotbzadeh.
10. We spent some time discussing the joint US-Iranian Commission. B and V have not thought through how this should be related to the scenario but claim that Bani-Sadr, Ghotbzadeh, and Habibi at least see the advantages of such a body. They talked about its working before release of the hostages. We said we could see stating that such a Commission would be formed after the hostages’ release, if we were absolutely sure of release, or an organizational meeting, but no substance could be discussed until after release.
11. B and V are convinced that the Swiss Ambassador’s information on Metrinko is accurate. Ambassador Helman has been in touch with the ICRC which has reached the Red Lion and Sun’s Dr. Gharahi who visited the Embassy on Sunday.6 (The Red Cross rep was to have accompanied him but arrived late.) Gharahi took careful notes on the hostages he saw, but notes were confiscated when he left the compound. Gharahi is certain he saw Metrinko who appeared in good condition and suffering no problems. We asked Amb. Helman if effort could be made to retrieve Gharahi’s notes.
- Source: Carter Library, Office of the Chief of Staff, Jordan’s Confidential Files, Box 2. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis; Cherokee; Special Encryption.↩
- March 12.↩
- See Document 203.↩
- Jordan recalled in his memoir that Bourguet said to him “we bring you a message from Bani-Sadr. He told us to tell you that the government will take control of the hostages within fifteen days. That is a promise from him to you!” (Jordan, Crisis, p. 194)↩
- See Document 180.↩
- Dr. Gharahi saw the hostages on Saturday, March 8, Tehran time. See Document 203.↩