The Edmond Sun

November 12, 2013

U.S. foreign service officers face difficult situations

William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — At a recent presentation on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma, John Limbert, who served as a U.S. diplomat in Iran at the time that Iranian militants seized the American Embassy there, spoke of a series of conversations that took place between the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and President Jimmy Carter in 1979.  

Iran at that time was gripped by mass demonstrations where people were demanding that the Shah give up his throne and leave the country.

“What should I do” the Iranian leader asked President Carter on several occasions. The American president always replied that the Shah was the  leader of Iran and that he could not tell him what to do. But Limbert said that Pahlavi had been put in power by a U.S. sponsored coup in 1953 and had depended on U.S. support since that time. Carter should have provided him more support and guidance and it is possible that if Carter had been more proactive, the radical regime that is currently ruling Iran that took Limbert and his colleagues at the American Embassy hostage for 444 days, would not have come to power after the Shah left Iran.

While the Iranian government has maintained in recent years that the Americans were treated as honored guests during their captivity, Limbert said that that was not the case and they were held as prisoners. He himself was held in solitary confinement for much of that time and he reported that some of the other captives have suffered from PTSD and substance abuse problems as a result of their ordeal.

Limbert spoke of how as a result of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy, American-Iranian relations have been characterized by suspicion and mutual distrust. But he believes that it is in the best interest of both the U.S. and Iran to begin working together to resolve some of their differences and said that he was pleased that there were talks currently being held in Geneva between Iranian and American diplomats.

The former ambassador also said that the two nations could also work together to address some of the issues that contribute to the instability in the Middle East. Limbert also discussed the ties that exist between the U.S. and Iran and said that his wife is from Iran, and that his children and grandchildren consider themselves to be both American and Iranian.  

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s daughter is married to an Iranian. And, the people who gathered to hear Limbert speak included many people who were originally from Iran who now make their homes in Oklahoma.

The former Ambassador thanked two of them, Jalal and Mohammad Farzaneh, for making his trip to  Oklahoma possible. Limbert went on to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the African nation of Mauritania, and was later appointed the Dean of Students at the Foreign Service Institute that is operated by the U.S. State Department.

All U.S. diplomats are required to take a 16-week course at that institute. Bob Anthony, who now serves as the General Counsel to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, was a student at that institute during Limbert’s tenure there and went on to work in the U.S. State Department as a foreign service officer. Anthony was in attendance at Limbert’s presentation and he later spoke of the admiration and regard that he and others who have served as U.S. foreign service officers have for Ambassador John Limbert.

William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.