228. Message From the Swiss Ambassador to Iran (Lang) to the Department of State1

1. After receiving the message for BS,2 I briefed V who judged, in view of its contents, that it was urgent for BS as well as Gh. Given BS lack of English and reliance on translators (who made mistakes), I immediately dictated a French translation.

2. At Gh’s behest, BS received me immediately.

3. His (BS’s) comments.

3.1 He admitted he had told Kaiser that a transfer of the hostages was possible,3 but he meant on condition that the commission continue its work. Now, the commission had departed, and, moreover, the Shah has been transferred to Cairo, and, according to his information, Kissin[Page 603]ger had organized this move (re the US declaration that it had tried to prevent the departure of the Shah.)

3.2 The Imam did publish the messages from Carter.4 BS realizes this is not done, but it was done. (According to V by Ahmed Khomeini who found the text less harsh than message 155 which BS presented, in confidence, to the Revolutionary Council, but which Behesti hastened to show to the Imam.) Moreover, there is now a White House denial of the message.5

BS told me that the message which I transmitted to the Imam had an altogether different tone, much more conciliatory. I, therefore, had to say that we had not transmitted this message. BS was shaken and said, but Gh told me it was from you. I told him there must have been a misunderstanding.

To avoid all misunderstanding about the situation (based on messages received and reports from Washington), I took the liberty of saying that the White House was now under intolerable pressure and that the deadline of March 31 must be taken more seriously.

3.3 BS reaffirmed his position. The hostages are an issue which must be put out of the way. BS believes that US imperialism is the worst thing, but he realizes, as a militant, that the hostage affair is only a nuisance for the US, but very serious for Iran. We must free ourselves from it. I have no need of courage or threats to do so.

3.4 The US need only remain calm, have patience and avoid provocation. I, therefore, repeated with unusual insistence the seriousness of the situation which requires absolutely an Iranian gesture before tomorrow night in view of the great pressures on the other side.

I emphasized our “good offices” mission by which we have been doing our best to avoid the worst and recourse to escalation.

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BS told me he would see what he could do. You see we are organizing a religious service for Easter and envision the sending of a doctor from the Red Lion and Sun. . . (I personally fear that he will not have the power to do more. . .

4. Re point 5, Kaiser will tell you how to transmit it to Gh.

Gh is giving a press conference now and I think that the message to BS has become, for him, doubly welcome. He is going to try again to avoid the worst, but equally it will permit him to escape from the difficult situation he finds himself in with the message to the Imam.

I informed BS that a copy of the message had been transmitted directly to GH who held a press conference.

5. German

  1. Source: Carter Library, Office of the Chief of Staff, Jordan’s Confidential Files, Box 2. Secret; Nodis.
  2. See Document 227.
  3. See Document 225.
  4. See Document 226.
  5. On March 30, the Los Angeles Times reported that Jody Powell explicitly had “denied that any letter existed” and that Ghotbzadeh had subsequently “denied the denial,” saying that he had seen the letter and that the White House denial would “destroy any possibility of faith Iranians still have in anything the American government says or does.” (Doyle McManus, “Iran Publishes and U.S. Denies Carter Message,” Los Angeles Times, March 30, 1980, pp. A1, A10, A11) According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter met with Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post, John Finney of the New York Times, Murray Gart of the Washington Star News, Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times, and Aldo Beckman of the Chicago Tribune on March 30 from 8:38 to 9:40 p.m. (Carter Library, President’s Daily Diary) No memorandum of conversation has been found. In his memoir, Carter recalls that he briefed them on recent developments “and urged them to be responsible in their reporting. A severe renunciation of the so-called Khomeini message or a condemnation of Ghotbsadeh might very well undo the apparent move by the Revolutionary Council toward transferring the hostages.” (Carter, Keeping Faith, p. 502)