Former Iran hostage John Limbert shares experiences 35 years later

World Today

Thirty five years ago, John Limbert became one of 52 U.S. hostages in a drama that would define more than three decades of frozen relations between the U.S. and Iran. Libert had just arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran to serve as a foreign service officer before he was held captive for 444 days when the embassy was taken by Iranian students in the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Former Iran hostage John Limbert shares experiences 35 years later

Thirty five years ago, John Limbert became one of 52 U.S. hostages in a drama that would define more than three decades of frozen relations between the U.S. and Iran. Libert had just arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran to serve as a foreign service officer before he was held captive for 444 days when the embassy was taken by Iranian students in the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

A fluent Farsi speaker, Limbert eventually went on to become U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran, where he was an advocate for rapprochement with the Islamic state. As the U.S once again extends its nuclear negotiations with Iranian officials, CCTV America’s Lorna Shaddick interviewed Limbert to get his take on the talks and to share his experiences as a hostage.

Ambassador Limbert: It wasn’t pleasant for us, it wasn’t pleasant for our family, but there are two realities of it that strike me. One – and I’ve always believed this – is that the real victims of this, the long-term victims, are the Iranians themselves. They continue to suffer from the aftermath. The second is that it still casts a shadow. I would have thought, originally, that after a suitable period of time, that tempers would have cooled on both sides and that we would have been able to talk to each other on both sides. It’s finally beginning to happen.

Lorna Shaddick: In terms of those who held you, mainly students, what can you remember about those people and how do you feel about them now. Do you feel any resentment towards them?

Ambassador Limbert: Towards them, I do not. I mean, they’re not my favorite people, I don’t consider them among my friends. If I feel any resentment, it’s to the adults in the room …who didn’t carry out their responsibility. I mean, those in authority in Tehran were responsible for us …under every set of standards or criteria that you want to have, whether it’s international law, whether it’s religious law, whether it’s custom, it goes back for millennia. They knew that. We were guests in their country and they were responsible for our safety, and when they needed to act, they did not act and in fact went beyond that and took advantage of these events.

Lorna Shaddick: So how much, then, do you think that that hostage crisis shapes and still shapes now the relationship between Iran, and the U.S. and in particular, the negotiations that are still going on over the nuclear program?

Ambassador Limbert: It’s hard to say exactly. Clearly, when Secretary Kerry or Under Secretary Sherman sit down with their Iranian counterparts, they don’t throw those events at each other. They’re never mentioned. But I call them the ghosts in the room. They’re there. I’m pretty sure that it’s made the process, as we can see, very difficult and very complicated.

Lorna Shaddick: And talking of complicated, we’ve just seen another seven month extension to the talks, the U.S. is pressing on, but what can really be done that hasn’t already be achieved? What will this extension really achieve now?

Ambassador Limbert: It’s a good question. The reality is that compared to where we and the Iranians have been for 34 years, 35 years, in the last year we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress. Now, it’s at the level of language, it’s at the level of symbolism, but that’s very important. Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif, they meet, and they describe their meetings as productive. Now, I ask you, Lorna, when was the last time any encounter between Iran and the United States was described as productive I can’t remember. It certainly has been at least 34, 35 years. So that’s progress. President Obama had made his outreach in 2009 and the Iranians, for reasons of their own, seemed unable to respond to it. It took another three or four years before the President’s original outreach began to show results.

Lorna Shaddick: Well we will see whether that outreach does indeed bear results in the next few months or so. Ambassador Limbert, thank you very much indeed for talking to us.

Ambassador Limbert: Thank you.