Iran General NewsFormer Iran hostages reunite

Former Iran hostages reunite

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AP: Held captive for more than a year during the Iran hostage crisis that began in 1979, Don Cooke said the experience was “95 percent boredom and 5 percent stark terror.” Associated Press

By ELIZABETH WHITE

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – Held captive for more than a year during the Iran hostage crisis that began in 1979, Don Cooke said the experience was “95 percent boredom and 5 percent stark terror.”

One of the worst parts was the sense of complete isolation, he said. Still, a short time after he was freed in 1981, the then-Foreign Service officer no longer had dreams, let alone nightmares, about his captivity.

A quarter-century after his release, Cooke, now 50, doesn’t even flinch when talking about it. But while the memories may not be as vivid, events today in the Middle East remind the hostages of their ordeal.

On Thursday, the eve of the 25th anniversary of the end of the hostage crisis, about 20 of the 66 Americans who were taken captive at the U.S. embassy or the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran celebrated their release and reflected on the evolution of U.S.-Iranian relations.

L. Bruce Laingen of Bethesda, Md., was the embassy’s charge d’affaires and was one of three people taken captive at the Foreign Ministry. He was in solitary confinement for his last three weeks as a hostage. Despite the treatment he suffered, he still holds hopes for diplomatic relations, which the U.S. broke off in 1980.

“We must find a way to engage in a dialogue with the government of Iran,” Laingen, now 83, said Thursday at the Capitol gathering sponsored by the Persian Dawn Memorial Foundation, which seeks to educate people about relations between the two countries.

Fifty-two of the 66 Americans seized by a group of Iranian students remained in captivity for 444 days – from Nov. 4, 1979, to Jan. 20, 1981. Eighty minutes after Ronald Reagan became president, he announced they had departed Tehran for freedom.

President Carter’s loss to Reagan in the 1980 election has been largely attributed to the hostage crisis, which included a failed rescue attempt. It was resolved when the U.S. released nearly $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets and offered Iran immunity from lawsuits it might have faced from the hostages.

Joe Hall, now 56, of Lenox, Ga., was an Army operations coordinator at the embassy who was interrogated and beaten. He said that a show of force by the U.S. early in the crisis could have prevented atrocities in recent years by sending a message of intolerance for terrorism.

No hostages were killed. But, Hall said: “That part of the world was led to believe it could get away with murder, literally and figuratively. Had there been adequate response initially, I don’t think we’d be in the situation we are today. We’ve all been saying for 25 years this is going to happen.”

Tensions between the U.S. and president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran resumed uranium enrichment research this month, and the West fears the nuclear program will lead to nuclear weapons, though Iran insists it is only for civilian use.

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that in the late 1990s there was a sense that the “deeply dysfunctional relationship” between the two countries was headed toward closure.

“Now we’re entering a period of uncertainty and very deep concern,” Alterman said. “I think there’s a way in which Iran is moving to the very top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda that wouldn’t have been clear six months ago.”

Henry Precht, now 73, was in charge of the Iranian desk at the State Department in Washington during the crisis. With Carter, he greeted the former hostages in West Germany after their release.

“We, as they, were just overjoyed that they had been released,” said Precht. “But some of them blamed Carter, blamed me for the fact that they were locked up. So I felt a sense of guilt there.”

The 52 hostages or their families have sought compensation from frozen Iranian assets through the courts, where their options are exhausted, and through Congress. Legislation is pending, but it has not moved past committee.

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