151. Memorandum From the White House Chief of Staff (Jordan) to President Carter1



I didn’t really state to you in a completely frank way either my own assessment of the situation as relates to Panamanian involvement in the hostage negotiations or all of the things that were said to me.2 I understated what was said to me because I questioned whether it was true and it sounded too self-serving.

Let me give it to you straight. Ghotbzedeh made no bones about the fact that he wanted to go to Panama to “act out the extradition charade” as soon as possible. He said that he had two specific motives: to obtain some good publicity for himself before the national elections and also to meet with me (secretly of course) on the subject of the hostages.

I discounted in my own thinking and in the report that I sent you a lot of what was said to me about both my own role in this matter and the significance of the contact between the Panamanians and the Foreign Minister. I attributed a lot of this to Ghotbzedeh’s despair that his own campaign is not going well and he is looking for some way to dominate the news and get favorable attention this last week before his national election. And, of course, we don’t know if this talk of going to Panama and meeting secretly with me is something that he wants/hopes to do unilaterally or something about which Khomeini has general knowledge. Also, when told about all of this and particularly the “critical role” that the Panamanians described to me, I strongly suspected that they were simply trying to flatter me.

So, my inclination to discount quite a bit all that I heard as relates to my own role in this and Ghotbzedeh’s desire to meet with me personally was offset by Hal Saunders’ attitude and by the memcon of Richard Cottam’s conversation with the Foreign Minister3 in which he confirmed that he had seen the Panamanians, that he thought that they were an important channel and that we should send the “same [Page 399] man” down there. At that point, I began to take all that I had heard about the Panamanians and even my own role in this a bit more seriously. Both Hal Saunders and I agree that we have no choice but to keep the Panamanian channel open and nurture it. As he says, the UN channel could close up or something could develop in the Panamanian channel—“we have pursued vigorously and seriously leads that were on the surface much less substantial than this one”.

Probably Ghotbzedeh will not be elected and we will be dealing with an entire new cast of characters. Even if he fails to win the election, there is always the chance that Khomeini will insist that he continue as Foreign Minister and/or as the person to try to resolve the hostage situation.

Even if we assume on the frontend that nothing will come of the Panamanian channel, it is in our own interest to keep them generally informed and involved as they have one very critical piece of the puzzle—the Shah.

The few times that I have been actively involved in foreign policy matters—the Panama Canal Treaty, the Mideast arms package, the Middle East, etc.—I have bent overboard to operate in tandem with the State Department, usually with Warren Christopher. But I got the distinct impression from Cy on my latest trip that the Panamanian contact was not serious, that he is suspicious of Torrijos and that the whole thing was resented because it had been done out of here and by me. In reaction to that, I got Ambler Moss involved, passing a message from you to Torrijos through him. Cy insisted that I restate in that message the fact that we assumed that we continued to have their firm commitment not to extradite the Shah.4

My only point in telling you all of this is that there is absolutely nothing to be lost by keeping the Panamanians generally informed and involved in this process. I don’t have the time or inclination to fool with this, but it is going to require someone at a high level treating it in a serious way. To date, that has not happened.

I have spent a lot of time in the past few days thinking about the hostage situation. I really haven’t given it much thought in human terms for the past few weeks. I know that it is a heavy personal burden for you and Cy. I have no wife or children, and should the time come that you needed someone to take considerable personal risks in pursu [Page 400] ing any of these leads or possibilities, I would be willing to do it. I have thought about this a lot and am serious about it.

Please return this to me in an envelope.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Office of the Chief of Staff, Jordan’s Confidential Files, Box 34, Iran 1/80. Eyes Only. Carter initialed “C” in the upper right corner of the memorandum.
  2. See Document 144.
  3. Document 145.
  4. Jordan had given Carter’s message to Moss by telephone, and Moss then relayed the President’s message to Torrijos and Royo, January 13. Torrijos dictated a “note verbale” in which he expressed Panama’s desire to be more involved in UN deliberations and reiterated his promise that the Shah would not be extradited. (Telegram 352 from Panama, January 14; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P870108–1025; N800001–0663) The text of Carter’s message is not repeated in the telegram.