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

1. Last night I met with my Algerian colleague Abdelkrim Gheraieb (GB) and informed him on our position concerning carrying out our respective mandates, a future examination of respective grievances and a reconciliation of the countries in dispute. GB whose Deputy Foreign Minister (and also Secretary General) is here at present was very much interested and told me that his Deputy Minister had received a much briefer note from Algiers about Algerian-Swiss cooperation. Our formula was not only interesting but sound.

2. GB briefed me about steps undertaken by his country.

2.1. At Tito’s funeral, the Algerian president had two meetings which underlie the present Algerian démarche.2

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First, with Chancellor Schmidt, who said it is up to you Algerians to help the whole world by keeping Iran-US conflict from further deterioration. We know that the US has reached the end of its patience and will not hesitate to undertake drastic measures and military operations with foreseeable consequences. Furthermore, Schmidt asked Algeria to help Europe. Europe is in a conflict of conscience, for reasons of principle, Europe cannot tolerate a continuation of the violation of diplomacy represented by the seizure of hostages in Tehran. Europe must show effective solidarity with the U.S. but Europe is also aware of its own interests in the region, of the sacrifices involved for results that are not immediate. Europe also worries over the consequences of an isolation of Iran for whom the only salvation lies in Arab and European countries in the face of the Soviet option. The second meeting with Pertini was even more sharpened, Pertini spoke primarily on behalf of Italy for whom the situation is tragic and for whom Algeria is the one chance to lead Iran to its senses.

2.2. Both Schmidt and Pertini would like to get Algeria to act as intermediary so that the government or the leadership of Iran will be able to make “a decisive step” enabling the Europeans to postpone, or not take at all, steps that no one wishes to take. This step should occur before the 17th.

2.3. After his return to Algiers, the President summoned GB and discussed the matter with his government. Not only was the Algerian government impressed by the initiatives of Schmidt and Pertini, he also decided to make them its own and dispatched Deputy Minister (following GB’s advice) in order for him to meet with Ghotbzadeh and if possible with Bani-Sadr.

3. GB is a member of the Central Committee of the Algerian National Liberation Front and a member of the National Assembly. I have a great deal of esteem for him, his children and my children play together, for months he has been telling me: “if you wish to succeed here, forget conventional diplomacy and call things by their name. It’s the only way to get to some result, maybe.”

He gave the same advice to his Deputy Foreign Minister who followed the advice, in part only, this being his first contact here.

This is what he said: “If any country can understand Iran, Algeria is that country. We have suffered under colonialism and imperialism. We know all about what AMERICAN imperialism can do and has done but it is not the only imperialism. Hostage taking cannot be tolerated. As it continues the situation becomes serious, far more serious than you, the Iranians seem to realize. Indeed, if the US and most European countries were to take drastic measures that applied to all countries that would continue to trade with you or to help you then you should know that in spite of our friendship for you, we shall place [Page 782] our own interests above all else. This means that we shall not be able to do anything for you. Furthermore, you claim to be the legitimate government of the Iranian Islamic Republic but that is not enough. In order for your legitimacy to secure international acceptance, it must be translated into deeds. Words alone are not enough and no longer suffice. If you are incapable of having your decisions implemented, you must draw the consequences of this state of affairs, resign your position and have the country confront its responsibilities. As you know, you belong with the Arab countries and with Europe but you are destroying your place. You must do something concrete and significant to enable the Europeans not to take any measures on the 17th of May and postpone them far into the future.”

4. This is what Ghotbzadeh answered (GB found him to be rather dejected, just as I have found him to be): he understood the situation. He had met with Waldheim in Belgrade and their talks boiled down to three points: first, Waldheim is available; second, he offered to reactivate the UN commission; third, the problem of a gesture enabling the Europeans to put off their decision.

GB points out to me that a reactivation of the UN commission is Waldheim’s wish because he wants to be re-elected and it also is very dear to GH who had gone very far in that direction. GH says that he is interested but he wants to wait and see how the atmosphere will be at Islamabad and he wants some clarifications from Waldheim.

In this context one should point out that Ghotbzadeh would like to enjoy the advantages of the commission without any of the undesirable aspects meaning that where the visit to the hostages is concerned the ICRC visit would be considered as having been made in its place. The idea here is that the work of the commission, its report and its findings will enable the parliament to discuss the hostages in a climate of moral satisfaction (in addition we would have the non-aligned seminar and the new Salamatian Commission set up by Bani-Sadr, as directed by the Imam, to investigate “the American interventions in Iran following the aborted strike of Tabass”).

Is that all, asked his interlocutors? And Ghotbzadeh then gave them explanations similar to those he gave me (see my message 465).3

Both GB and his Deputy Foreign Minister then said that that was not enough. You must place the hostages under governmental control never mind if it is in one or several locations. Then you must say to the country from now on the Revolutionary Council is in control and then you must effectively do this.

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6. (No numeral 5 in original) The Deputy Foreign Minister and GB then asked GHOTBZADEH for a meeting with Bani-Sadr, provided it is clearly understood that if Bani-Sadr is to merely repeat Ghotbzadeh’s theses then there is no reason to waste his time. The Algerians clearly expected an act of statemanship on the part of Bani-Sadr. Ghotbzadeh then telephoned Bani-Sadr and briefed him about what he had said. But the Deputy Foreign Minister who is leaving tomorrow has not yet been received by Bani-Sadr who nevertheless found plenty of time yesterday and the day before to meet with a number of journalists . . . and with my British colleague.

7. This is where things stand, says GB. So let us see what effect Waldheim’s statement issued after his meeting with Giscard will have. Let us see what Ghotbzadeh will tell us after Islamabad where the Algerian Deputy Foreign Minister is also going, perhaps together with Ghotbzadeh.

Meager results so far.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Box 42, Subject File, Iran Papers 5/80–7/80. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. As reported in telegram 9294 from Bonn, May 14, Schmidt asked Algerian President Chadli Benjedid at the funeral of Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito “to consider an Algerian initiative” to resolve the hostage crisis. Benjedid then dispatched the Algerian Foreign Ministry Director General to Tehran for discussions on resolving the crisis. (Department of State, Records of David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Subject Files, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, Iran NODIS Cables May 1980)
  3. Not found.