222. Editorial Note

On March 25, 1980, French lawyer Christian Bourguet stopped in Washington on his way from Panama to Iran. As White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan recalled, Bourguet had lunch with Jordan, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Harold Saunders, Director of the Office of Iranian Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Henry Precht, and White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler. Vice President Walter Mondale stopped by briefly. Bourguet then met with President Jimmy Carter in the Map Room at the White House. This was the first time the two men had met. Bourguet told Carter that the departure of the Shah from Panama was “a turning point.” The Iranians had originally thought the United States helped the Shah escape arrest in Panama, but now, he argued, this could be sold as a “victory” for Iran “in that it demonstrates that the Shah did commit crimes and is having to flee from justice to avoid paying for them.” (Jordan, Crisis, pages 230–234)

During their discussion Bourguet admitted the hostage situation was frustrating. Carter responded: “Frustrating? Look at the spot I’m in! I am the President of a great country. Fifty-three people look to me for support week after week and month after month while we watch this comic opera in Tehran.” The President continued:

“I don’t see that there is any progress at all! We’re in exactly the same position as we were four months ago. The hostages are suffering every day. We are a strong nation and we do not have to prove it, but our patience is beginning to look like a demonstration of cowardice of which we cannot be proud and which I will not allow to become a way of life. Something has to change.” (Ibid.)

At Jordan’s prompting, Carter quickly wrote a note for Bourguet to take to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini or President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr. The note stated that the United States wanted the captives released unharmed, would eventually want normal relations with Iran under the existing government thereby recognizing the results of the revolution, and wanted Iran to air its grievances through the International Court of Justice or through the media. (Ibid.) The President, Bourguet, and Jordan met from 2:52 to 4:20 p.m. (Carter Library, President’s Daily Diary) No other record of the meeting or of the note has been found.