This fascinating video came to our attention yesterday. It shows Amb. John Limbert, at the time a hostage in the US Embassy, speaking with Ali Khamenei, then Iran’s president Deputy Defense Minister (and currently the Supreme Leader). Just this morning, Amb. Limbert — a NIAC advisory board member — joined us at our Capitol Hill conference for a panel assessing Obama’s diplomacy with Iran, but this is an amazing look at his experience thirty years ago today.
For non-Farsi speakers, the exchange between Limbert and Khamenei here is incredibly interesting. To paraphrase: Limbert politely welcomed Khamenei, who was being treated as a guest since he was visiting the hostages at their “residence” where they were being held. Limbert remarked about the Iranian cultural quirk known as “taarof,” which characterizes the uniquely Iranian version of hospitality, saying: Iranians are too hospitable to guests in their country, when we insist that we must be going, you all tell us “no, no, you must stay.”
When Limbert pressed the matter further, Khamenei revealed that the real issue was the United States’ willingness to allow the deposed Shah to enter into the country for medical treatment. When the US returns the Shah to Iran so the revolutionary government can prosecute him, Khamenei explained, then the hostages will be allowed to leave.
For those old enough to remember the hostage crisis as it happened, this will surely evoke strong memories from that period thirty years ago. But for the rest of us, this is an amazingly personal glimpse into the ordeal that held the world’s attention for so long, and for which all of us are still dealing with the repercussions.
Video: Hostage John Limbert speaking with Khamenei