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Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Iran’s first president after the Islamic revolution in 1979, died on Saturday at the age of 88 in Paris.
There have been remarkably few American obituaries for such an important number. Only one mentions what is probably the most important fact about Bani-Sadr’s life from the perspective of American politics: He claimed that Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign collided with the Iranian government after the revolution to keep American hostages in Iran until after this year’s election.
The only exception was from The Associated Press, and even it mentioned the subject most to knock it down. The AP obituary stated that Bani-Sadr “became infamous after claiming without evidence in a book that Ronald Reagan’s campaign collided with Iranian leaders to hold back the hostage solution.”
In fact, rumors that the Reagan campaign had entered into some sort of agreement with Iran’s Islamic Republic began to swirl in Washington shortly after Reagan’s landslide victory over President Jimmy Carter. The possibility became known as the “October Surprise” theory thanks to the documented concern in the Reagan camp that Carter would withdraw the hostages in October, just before the election. (The AP obituary incorrectly states that Bani-Sadr’s book “gave birth to the idea of the ‘October surprise’ in American politics.”)
Although largely forgotten now, the seizure of 52 U.S. diplomats and citizens at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by revolutionary Iranian students and the Carter administration’s failure to release the hostages was a key issue in the 1980 presidential race.
In 1992, what would be the last year of the George HW Bush administration, there was enough political pressure on the subject for both the Senate and the House of Representatives to launch investigations. Both found that there was no significant substance in the allegations.
At this point, Bani-Sadr-as referenced by the AP stated in his 1991 memoir, “My turn to speak,” that “Americans close to Reagan” in the spring of 1980 had proposed “not a reconciliation between governments, but a secret agreement between managers. “
Bani-Sadr wrote that he had actually spoken publicly about this in real time: “At the end of October 1980, everyone was openly discussing the deal with the Americans on the Reagan team. In the October 27 issue of Enghelab Eslami ”- or Islamic Revolution, Bani-Sadr newspaper -“ I published an editorial that said that Carter no longer had control over American foreign policy and had given real power to those who… had negotiated with mullahs about the hostage case. ”
In December 1992, Bani-Sadr sent a detailed letter to the House investigation team. He had learned about the possibility of a hostage deal in July 1980, he said from Reza Passendideh, the nephew of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s first supreme leader.
Bani-Sadr later wrote in 2013 that Ben Affleck’s film “Argo” in a very wrong way presented some facts about the revolution in Iran. An example, he explained, was this:
Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a secret hearing, later known as the “October Surprise,” which prevented me and then-US President Jimmy Carter from trying to free the hostages. … Two of my advisers, Hussein Navab Safavi and Sadr-al-Hefazi, were executed by the Khomeini regime because they had become aware of this secret.
The passage shows Bani-Sadr’s strong animus against the Khomeini government. Bani-Sadr was elected in January 1980 with almost 80 percent of the vote, but held more moderate positions than other factions fighting for power in the fluid post-revolutionary period. He was charged with Khomeini’s support in June 1981 and soon fled the country for fear of his life.
Bani-Sadr’s credibility has been called into question. The House Task Force claimed it “Bani-Sadr’s analysis shows how some Iranians have erroneously misled themselves into believing that Khomeini representatives met with Reagan campaign staff.” Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., excoriated Bani-Sadr on the floor of the house in 1991.
However, Bani-Sadr is by no means the only senior official to claim that there was a secret agreement on the US hostages. The late reporter Robert Parry covered this topic in depth, point out that former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir stated that “of course” there was an October surprise conspiracy. The cinema of Alexandre de Marenches, the extremely conservative head of French intelligence at the time, have said that de Marenches told him that the French secret service helped arrange the meetings.
Bani-Sadr is by no means the only senior official to claim that there was a secret agreement on the US hostages.
Russia’s post-Soviet government sent the House Task Force a report confirming that there was such an agreement. Yet the House investigators did not publicly acknowledge the report, including it only in the classified version of their conclusions. Parry fell over the classified documents by accident in a Capitol Hill bathroom to be used for storage.
And Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat directly told to Carter in the 1990s that the Reagan campaign approached him with an offer of arms to his Palestine Liberation Organization if he could help mediate an agreement with Iran.
Last but not least, the heading for the story of Reagan’s inauguration in 1981 in the onion book “Our Dumb Century” is: “Iran releases hostages; Reagan urges the nation not to put two and two together.”
The moves from Reagan’s campaign would not have been a new blow for a Republican aspirant to the White House. It is proven without a doubt that the 1968 Richard Nixon campaign conspiracy with the government of South Vietnam to thwart a peace deal that would have increased the chances of Nixon’s rival, Hubert Humphrey.
Regardless of the underlying truth of the October surprise theory, it is simply a fact that Bani-Sadr said what he said repeatedly.
Bani-Sadr’s obituary in the New York Times mentions that Iran’s ambassador to the UN at the time withdrew from taking hostages and wrote a long article condemning it — and only one place in Iran published it: a newspaper that supported Bani-Sadr.
The peculiar obscuration of Bani-Sadr’s perspective on the prolongation of the hostage crisis for Reagan’s political gain suggests that the distance between the American corporate press and the Iranian media is not as great as we might hope.