219. Editorial Note

On March 22, 1980, General Omar Torrijos, Military leader of Panama, informed White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan that the former Shah of Iran should leave Panama before Monday, March 24, when Iranian lawyers would file a request for his extradition. (Memorandum for the File, March 22; Department of State, Records of David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Subject Files, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, Vol V: Briefing Book for the Shah, Panama Jan–March 1980, Egypt Jan–July 1980) Gary Sick of the National Security Council Staff later wrote that Christian Bourguet had the extradition papers in Panama but was awaiting the arrival of an Iranian lawyer. (Sick, All Fall Down, page 319)

On March 23, the Shah left Panama for Egypt. In his memoir, Jordan recounted last minute negotiations with Bourguet and Iranian Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh. The latter promised to move the hostages to government control within the hour if the Shah were prevented from leaving Panama or landing in Egypt. Jordan, reluctant to believe Ghotbzadeh, yet unwilling to miss an opportunity, asked Secretary of Defense Harold Brown to delay the Shah’s plane in the Azores. Although this was done, Bourguet informed Jordan that the Revolutionary Council refused the gambit. The Shah continued on to Egypt. (Jordan, Crisis, pages 223–227)

According to telegram 77415 to all diplomatic and consular posts, March 24, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski, explained to the press that the Shah was in Egypt in order to seek medical treatment. The militants holding the hostages in Tehran told Reuters, however, that the Shah’s departure was of “no importance” as they would “only free the hostages when the Shah and his wealth were returned to Iran.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800149–0652)

In Egypt, the Shah underwent a successful operation to remove his spleen and was scheduled to begin chemotherapy within 2 weeks for his lymphoma, which had become more aggressive since its initial [Page 589]diagnosis. Dr. Michael DeBakey led the operating team. The team was divided over the Shah’s longevity, with estimates running from 5–10 years to mere months. (Telegram 7548 from Cairo, April 3; Department of State, Records of David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Subject Files, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, Iran NODIS Cables Apr 1980)