Former Iranian Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi has, in a Farsi interview with the Entekhab news website, talked about his meeting in Algeria back in 1979 with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the late advisor to then US President Jimmy Carter.
In that meeting, Yazdi was accompanied by then Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan and Defence Minister Mostafa Chamran. The following is the highlights of Yazdi’s interview with the Shargh daily newspaper.
If we have differences with Americans, we should sit down and talk to them. Brzezinski was a good party for negotiations. In political negotiations, it’s important to see who the other side is. Some negotiators are off the track and don’t know what’s going on. There’s nothing you can do about them during talks. But Brzezinski was a very smart and canny negotiator. He had good knowledge of what he was talking about. He knew what he was doing.
We wanted to reach agreement on relations between Iran and the US. Brzezinski was a prominent American politician, and he was the best person to negotiate with if we wanted to reach agreement with Washington on issues over which we had differences.
I don’t remember [which side first expressed willingness to start the negotiations], but both sides felt they ought to sit down for talks. Under those circumstances, it was a necessity.
[Asked what the main topic of the talks was, given that the US embassy in Tehran had not yet been seized by Iranian students, Yazdi replied] In fact we wanted understanding [on the part of Americans] on Iran’s Islamic Revolution. It was very important for us to make US officials understand the stances of the Islamic Revolution and those of Iran. We wanted them to accept the revolution because they were afraid of it.
Brzezinski was an anti-revolutionary figure. He was not only against our revolution, but against any other revolution. He was against, because they could not accept revolutionary positions.
Brzezinski was a [Polish] Jew. Russians had persecuted the Poles throughout history and even after the October revolution, and Brzezinski had very bad memories [of them]. So, he thought Iran’s revolution might have similar consequences as well. Basically, they were upset about the revolution and were not optimistic about it.
Generally speaking, Brzezinski was very sceptical about the role of the Soviet Union, and maybe that was because he had a Polish background. Maybe he regarded Iran’s revolution as an Achilles heel to pave the way for the Soviet Union’s further infiltration into the region. He was worried that the revolution might prompt Iran, as a reliable partner for the US, to lean towards Russia. Yes, Americans were concerned about that.
The talks in Algiers included two or three short sessions held on several days in a row. It was the anniversary of the Algeria revolution. We had gone there to take part in the celebrations. It was Algerians that mediated the talks.
We (Yazdi, Bazargan and Chamran) had reached consensus. We had talked together prior to meeting Brzezinski and decided what to say, what to do and how to deal with Americans during the negotiations.
We wanted Washington to return the [toppled Iranian dictator] Shah to us, because Mohammad Reza Shah staying in the US could create trouble for us. We insisted that he be returned. Americans could strengthen him. He’d been hurt by the revolution. We were worried that the Shah might get along with US authorities, which could harm the revolution.
We were worried that an incident similar to the 1953 Iranian coup might happen again because the [Islamic] Revolution [of Iran] had not been stabilized by then and we had numerous problems; so, we were right to be worried.
[Asked whether he thought the US embassy takeover would happen a few days after their return, he replied] In Iran, there were some who wanted us to reach agreement with Americans, and there were some who didn’t. The second group wanted Iran to keep having hostile relations with the US. Most leftist groups had this idea. They didn’t want to see the normalisation of ties. The point is, national interests made it all the more necessary for us to get along with Americans, but the leftists didn’t want us to. The wide range of leftist groups, Islamists and non-Islamists alike, were all unhappy to see us reach agreement; so, they showed reaction. Of course, we anticipated such opposition, but didn’t think the opposition would be so widespread.
[Asked whether he thinks it was the Iranian team’s meeting with Brzezinski that led to the capture of the US embassy in Tehran, or that there were other factors involved, Yazdi said] The leftists were naturally opposed to amelioration of Iran’s relations with the US. They were worried over our meeting with a US politician. Moreover, we, as the negotiating team, had good knowledge of the issues at hand, and we didn’t just talk the talk. We knew how to behave towards Americans. But there were some people who were against improvement of ties between Tehran and the White House, and that’s why they showed reaction.
All of us three negotiators agreed that we should reach agreement with the US. There was nothing else that Washington could do, after all. What did the US want to do?! At the same time, it was in our interest to clinch a deal with the US.
[Asked if those talks had continued, we wouldn’t be facing the issue of the Iranian assets frozen by Washington, the problem of blocked bank accounts would have been settled, our arms deal with the US would have been implemented and we wouldn’t have had any problem buying weapons during the Iraqi imposed war on Iran in the 1980s, he answered] Yes, if the negotiations had continued, our problems would have been solved. Continued talks could have had the results just mentioned.
After we returned to Tehran and the US embassy was seized, our contact with Washington was severed and talks with Brzezinski ended. There was no point in negotiating anymore.
[Question: First Brzezinski made every effort and engineered different scenarios to harm Iran and deal a blow to Iran’s Islamic Revolution, but he had changed in recent years and called for reaching agreement with Iran. Do you think he changed due to the passage of time? Or was it the revolution that changed?]
No, the revolution didn’t change. Revolutionaries didn’t change, either. But Americans somehow became realistic. What else could they do, after all? Iran’s revolution emerged victorious and was in a position of power.
In a joint interview that I had with Newsweek together with Brzezinski a few years ago, I can say he hadn’t changed at that time, either. But he was prudent enough to adapt himself to the situation. Even the circumstances under which the recent nuclear negotiations were held between Iran and the P5+1 countries had changed compared to the past. Of course, our managers and officials have changed, too. We cannot push back a standing wall. We have become realistic. All of us learn from events. Americans, too, leaned lessons from the failure of earlier talks, and learned to modify their positions, and they did so [during the recent nuclear negotiations with Iran].