The PJ Tatler

American Hostages Stay Locked Up in Tehran

They’re sentenced to eight years for being on the wrong side of the Iran-Iraq border and spying on the Islamic Republic.  But not to worry, they can appeal…


Did anyone really think, as numerous “news” stories gave us to understand, that the regime was going to pardon these poor souls?  As one of the few Americans who actually participated in negotiations with the regime about American hostages, let me suggest a few basic guidelines:

1.  Hostages are like chips in a poker game;  you want to pile them up so you’ll be able to bet and bluff when there’s a really big pot;

2.  There is no concept of clemency;  hostages are only released when Iran gets something in return.  That “something” can be money, or some of their own prisoners, or weapons, or diplomatic concessions (like easing or lifting an embargo);

3.  The entire issue is political, and has nothing at all to do with what we would consider “evidence;”

4.  Professional American diplomats are usually unsuited for such dealings with such regimes, because their experience is mostly about “improving relations.”  Hostages are elements in a blackmail operation, the only real questions are how much we’re prepared to pay, or what nasty things we’re prepared to do if the hostages aren’t released.


Back in the eighties, a journalist from the New York Times asked me what he was missing in the Iran story.  I said to him that if he tried to find out what Iran had received for the release of American hostages, he’d probably learn a lot about the world.  Afterwards he told me that he wished he’d paid more attention.  So a few months ago, when I learned a bit more about our secret negotiations with the Iranians, I sent him an email suggesting he might pursue the same line of inquiry he’d ignored thirty years ago.  I never heard back.

He’s a very good journalist, by the way.  It just shows how hard it is for Americans to come to grips with the heart of darkness that rules Tehran.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member