Time Capsule: Stassen Seeks Role as Negotiator in Iranian Hostage Crisis

Thirty-two years ago today, Harold E. Stassen announced that he had asked President Carter to send him to Iran to negotiate a release of the 52 American hostages being held captive after Islamic students and militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979.

The 73-year-old Philadelphia attorney told reporters at an April 20th press conference that he had sent a letter to the President asking to be sent to Iran to “work out a peaceful solution, including the safe return of all American hostages and the establishment of a sound future relationship between the people of Iran and the United States.”

Stassen, who served as President Eisenhower’s director of foreign operations, had initially asked President Carter for permission to go to Iran in a letter dated December 7, 1979, about a month after the hostages were taken.

Stassen, who helped draft the United Nations Charter and was its last surviving signatory, negotiated treaties with no fewer than forty-two countries — including Iran — during his years in the Eisenhower Administration.  Needless to say, he had a reservoir of foreign policy experience from which to draw upon.

Seeking the elusive brass ring for the seventh time that year, the one-time “boy wonder” of American politics — and one of the last of the endangered liberal Republicans — had been highly critical of Carter’s handling of the Iranian hostage crisis.

“We should at once send skilled, experienced people to open up conferences with the militants, the government and [Ayatollah] Khomeini,” he said during a candidates’ forum in Altoona, Pennsylvania, a few days earlier while campaigning in his adopted state’s April 22nd primary.

Stassen, who entered twenty-one Republican presidential primaries that spring, also proposed asking Congress “to approve the taking of 500 hostages in this country” to give the United States more bargaining power in negotiations, adding that any such hostages should be individuals “close to the Iranian government.”

The former Minnesota governor and perennial presidential candidate said that he was opposed to making military threats against Iran because the vast majority of the citizens of that country were not responsible for the hostage crisis.

Stassen’s proposal was made only a week before President Carter, frustrated by six months of failure and disappointment in trying to negotiate a release of the hostages, ordered a daring rescue mission that ended tragically, resulting in the deaths of eight American servicemen.

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