Q: You walked 11 hours out of Iran, out of revolutionary Iran, a country that you always wanted to create. How did you feel as you crossed the border going out of your own country to become a fugitive?
A: At the time you go through that experience you're so much involved in the details of survival -- climbing the mountains -- it's all an abstraction.
Q: When does it hit you?
A: When I went to Turkey my Iranian passport did not have an entrance stamp. So I had to stay in this one room for six days while my passport was taken away. They told me they took it to Istanbul, 3,000 kilometers (more than 1800 miles roundtrip). It took six days. I had nothing to read. The only communication I had there was with a 12-year-old kid where I was staying. During that period I was reflective. It's not easy to move from a non-democratic tradition to a democratic tradition.
Q: This must be a crushing blow -- you see the triumph of the revolution that you had hoped for and then, two years later, you have to flee your country.
A: Right. The fact that you have survived puts you in a very privileged position. It would be impossible to feel pity for oneself. You think about many innocent close friends who were executed. Families broken and divided. Revolutions are devastating. I could not really feel self-centered at all.
Q: How many people have been executed by Khomeini and his people?
A: The National Council of Resistance and a number of other sources have estimated that over 20,000 people have been executed in Iran since mid-June of 1981, and in my view it is not an exaggerated number at all.
Q: Of those people who have been executed, I guess the best known to Americans was (Sadegh) Ghotbzadeh?
Q: Do you think he was really plotting to kill Khomeini, as Khomeini and his people claimed?
A: He was framed. And yet he was the kind of person who could get involved in a conspiratorial attempt. The idea was absurd that a few people were going to get together and overthrow the regime, but he was not politically sophisticated.
Q: Now it's come out that Hamilton Jordan met him and negotiated directly with him. Was there ever any chance from you having been on the inside that Ghotbzadeh could have settled this matter?
A: Ghotbzadeh had as much power with respect to the resolution of the hostage crisis as Hamilton Jordan.
Q: Which is to say what?
Q: He had no real ability to affect the situation?
A: Not at all. (There) was one man in total and unconditional control. It was Khomeini. Khomeini did not even know that Ghotbzadeh was meeting with Hamilton Jordan. Ghotbzadeh was very much interested in this type of shenanigan. Pretending. Seeing Hamilton Jordan. Saying "Why don't you kill the shah?"
Q: So it was just a game, a sideshow?
A: It was just a complete farce. Which really means that continuously from the very beginning of the revolutionary year until the day Carter left, they never understood Iran.
Q: You'd been reading documents of the United States embassy (captured by the militants and recently published) in Tehran. They say what people in the embassy really thought was going on in Iran. What is your assessment of the knowledge by the embassy experts of what was taking place in your country?
A: The documents show that American officials in Iran had an impressive knowledge of the internal functioning and arrangements of the Iranian political order -- including a great deal of knowledge about the personal qualities and characteristics of the key individuals in positions of authority from the shah to his sister, the prime minister and various ministers. The failure of intelligence was very conceptual. American analysts in Iran, just as American academicians in this country, did not see a threat to the regime coming from the populace. The only source of threat they perceived was the military.
Q: If they had such good information about the individuals and about the situation, how could they conceivably reach the conclusion as late as 1978 that Iran was not in a revolutionary or even pre-revolutionary condition?
A: They knew nothing about the opposition. They knew nothing about the cultural, social consequences of the shah's programs. They had contempt for the culture.
Q: Contempt for the culture?
A: Contempt for the culture. That this culture is incapable of people rising up. What American officials told the shah and his sister and the rest of the entourage -- complimenting them and praising them for their Westernization and so forth -- was very different from the way they really felt. They knew about the corruption, cynicism, submissiveness, absence of loyalty, total absence of sincerity with respect to the government.
Q: There were some individuals within the embassy who really understood the Iranian culture and in fact were sympathetic. But these individuals had no input into the reporting or the analysis of what was happening in Iran. The real reporting came from the CIA operatives.
A:One CIA man by the name of Guy Rutherford was introduced to Abol Hassan Bani- Sadr in December 1978 in Paris. He was introduced to Bani-Sadr as a progressive American businessman representing a firm in Philadelphia. The man went to Bani-Sadr criticizing American policies toward Iran, supporting the revolution, and saying that in his view there was no contradiction between a revolutionary success and continuation of equitable trade relations between Iran and the United States.
Q: This man was actually a CIA agent?
A: Was actually a CIA agent. He says to Bani-Sadr, "Will you be interested in becoming our economic adviser when you return to Iran?" Bani-Sadr says "No, I am not interested because I am going to publish a newspaper. I am going to be involved in politics. But if you want any information or guidance we will have a minister of commerce and they can give you all the information," and whatever. (Bani-Sadr) talked as if he is talking to an independent progressive businessman.
A month later he returns to Iran, he calls on Bani-Sadr once again who was having lunch at his sister's house and Bani-Sadr asked him to come over. They have another very generalized conversation about the revolution. I think it's fascinating to read Rutherford's memo about Bani-Sadr.
Q: What does he say?
A: He says "Bani-Sadr is an ambitious man. He is a potential agent. He does not need money right now, but later on he might need us. He wears a gold watch, and that indicates the man is materialistic. He wears a well-tailored suit, it means he has a taste for a luxurious life. He wants to become a newspaper publisher." And then he generalizes that newspaper publishers are ambitious and open to bribery or corruption.
Q: In other words, here is one individual who is holding an open conversation with an American who claims to be progressive, and he is reported to Washington as a potential agent. As a person who is disloyal to his own country and society.
Q: What conclusion do you draw from the way Rutherford behaved with Bani-Sadr?
A: That the United States in Iran -- just as in the rest of the Third World -- they perceive two options: the authoritarian and the totalitarian. Those political elements who advocate a democratic order and open politics -- they perceive them as romantics, unrealistic idealists who will sooner or later be defeated by one or the other faction.
Q: Isn't that just exactly what's happened? In fact that was the story of Bani-Sadr and yourself. You were caught between these two much heavier forces.
A: I would say the United States, either by action or inaction, contributes to the realization of this proposition, that it's either extreme right-wing or extreme left-wing.
Q: How does it feel to give your all for a revolution and then discover that what you worked for is a fraud?
A: What we continue to work for is not at all a fraud. It is really the only cause worthy of fighting for -- the establishment of a humane and relatively democratic political order in Iran. But the revolution has turned into a fraud.
Q: You wrote in the spring of 1979 (that) there is no reason to believe that Khomeini will ever become a strong man in the coercive sense. When did you find out that indeed he was becoming a strong man in the coercive sense, and how did you find it out?
A: I would say that very early signs of Khomeini turning into strong man, an absolute ruler, were becoming apparent when he was still in Paris. But for the Iranian intelligentsia, we were a lucky bunch of orphans who had found a father figure in Khomeini. Each deviation, each sign, each tendency to demonstrate his authoritatian or dictatorial designs was somewhat dismissed by all of us, including myself, as really not important.
Q: When did you finally reach the conclusion that you couldn't ignore?
A: With the hostages. I'll never forget that. I explained to him (in mid-December 1979) how destructive the hostage taking is, morally and materially, to Iran. How it is defacing the revolution.
He said we want to be paid attention to. We want to be in the news. We want the coverage. We want the cameras. See -- it was very blatant in his attitude to use the publicity for his destructive purposes. By that time it was very clear that the purposes were all internal. They really had very little to do with foreign policy issues.
Q: What did Khomeini want you to do in to keep (the hostages) in the news -- that this is important for us to keep the publicity up.
A: His strategy was to have some kind of solution in the making. Some way out is being formulated. Some device is being developed. Keep the world on edge.
It was very clear. The end of the hostage crisis would be to the benefit of the Iranian progressive forces as well as bringing the crime to an end. Yet as time went on and he saw Carter's evasiveness and indecisive, erratic behavior, he decided he could use the publicity and continue to use the situation against his critics inside the country.
All the so-called negotiations had no substance whatsoever. But they served Khomeini's purpose of keeping the world on the edge and therefore attracting attention.
Q: I often heard my fellow reporters remark that it was like a soap opera. You would come right to the edge. The suspense would be kept up month after month after month, gripping the public imagination. It sounds like it's exactly what Khomeini intended, to keep the public interest and state of suspense very high in order to reap the greatest benefit within Iran by the international publicity.
A: Exactly. I cannot really put it any better.
Q: Did you ever talk to any of the people who held the hostages?
A: I had extensive discussions. They were extremely clever. Within their general irrationality they had some rationality of how to manipulate the situation. One morning they didn't see too many cameras and reporters and they immediately had an emergency meeting and one of them said, "What did we do wrong? That they are not here today?"
It was very exhibitionist, politically. In fact, some of these students -- Hussein Shaikhol Eslami -- lived in Berkeley for seven years. They were pretty much familiar with the exhibitionist politics. Hussein Shaikhol Eslami is the undersecretary of the foreign office in Tehran today.
Q: He had lived in Berkeley and he knew about confrontational politics? And theater of politics?
A: Exactly. They knew about theatrical politics. They were actually doing it.
Q: What are the chances for another revolution coming?
A: It will not really be another revolution. It will probably be the continuation of the same revolution. The Iranian revolution is not at all complete. Khomeini has the capacity to maintain a very deceptive form of control. But the control is not at all institutionalized. It's all very personal. His power cannot be transferred to another individual.
Q: Which do you think will be judged more harshly by history, the shah or Khomeini?
A: Of course, Khomeini. The Iranian people did not feel a sense of loyalty toward the shah, did not expect him to serve the interest of the Iranian people.
Q: But they did for Khomeini.
A: Khomeini betrayed the Iranian people. There was a massive sense of loyalty and admiration toward the man. He represented the whole of hundred years of continuous struggle. So Khomeini's betrayal and harshness and brutality will be judged far more, if we assume that Iranians have some sense of humanity left with the rest of human beings. In over three-and-a-half years, we have had a war. That whole part of the country is completely devastated. Iranian people know that if it wasn't for Khomeini's incompetence, the Iraqis would have never dared to attack us. Two million refugees. The largest oil refinery in the world completely ruined. More than $200 billion in material destruction. More than 100,000 killed and more than 250,000 wounded. We have close to 5 million unemployed. The entire university system is shut down. Completely. Children are interrogated in the schools to reveal the conversations of their members or older members of the family. Houses are broken into in the middle of the night. People aren't allowed to listen to music of their choice. An estimated 25,000 Iranians are still underground. There are more than 50,000 Iranians in prison and 20,000 executed. The Iranian prestige in the world is at its all-time low. Inflation is 50 percent, 60 percent. People have to stand in line to get their bread. They get meat once a month. I can go on. Now in the midst of this, if we say Khomeini is popular, we have to say the Iranians are absolutely insane and self- destructive. Iranian people also know that Khomeini is not a Muslim. Khomeini is as much a Muslim as Jim Jones was a Christian. Exactly in the same fashion.
Q: Do you feel any responsibility for all this?
A: To the extent that Khomeini's success was made possible by the failure of progressive forces to form a coalition in defense of democratic rights in Iran in the immediate post-revolutionary period, the Iranian intellectuals must accept responsibility. CAPTION: Picture, Mansour Farhang, 47, born in Aari, Iran, was a professor of political science at Sacramento State University and a backer of the Iranian revolution when, following the fall of the shah in 1979, he was tapped to serve the new revolutionary government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. When the U.S. hostages were seized on Nov. 4, 1979, he was serving as a political adviser temporarily attached to the Iranian embassy in Washington. He played a leading role in the early months of the international maneuvering over their release, including six months as Iran's ambassador to the United Nations.
He returned to Iran, he thought forever, in June 1980. But 14 months later he fled Iran in fear for his life, following the dismissal of his friend Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr as president, and the intensification of armed internal struggle.
He is now a visiting fellow at the Center for International Studies at Princeton.