Three Moslem ambassadors embracing Hamaas Abdul Khaalis alongside a makeshift conference table on the first floor of the 3'nai Birith headquarters ended the face-to-face meeting that led to the release of 124 hotages being held by Hanafi gunmen.
The Scene in an uncompleted exhibition hall was only one of many extraordinary moments in a day and one half of intense discussions between Wednesday afternoon and the early hours of Friday morning.
The participants in the lengthy negotiations with Khaalis, who alone spoke for the dozen gunmen, were Washington Chief of Police Maurice Cullinane, Deputy Chief Robert Rabe and the Washington ambassadors of Egypt, Iran and pakistan.
Backing them up, unseen by the Hanafi leader, was a line of authority reaching from President Carter, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and Attorney General Griffin Bell to FBI and State Department psychiatrists, psychologists and experts in dealing with ferrorism.
Carter was gravely concerned about the risks of sending foreign ambassadors from friendly nations into an uncertain meeting with a man who was holding hostages at gunpoint. According to participants, he gave final permission only minutes before the crucial face-to-face meeting began.
The three ambassadors - Ashraf Ghorbal of Egypt, Ardeshir Zahedi of Iran and Sahabzada Yaqub-Khan of Pakistan - entered the talks, at first by telephone, in an effort to build trust and confidence between Khaalis and the police authorities. To the leader of a tiny group professing the Muslim faith, the ambassadors quoted verses from the Koran stressing compassion. One of the most telling was:
"And let not the hatred of some people in once shutting you out of the sacred mosque lead you to transgression and hostility on your part. Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancor."
Initially Khaalis was hostile saying, "Don't teach me the Koran I know it better than you. Do you know that there are occasions when blood calls for repayment by blood?" But after periodic telephone conversations - nearly every two hours during the long siege in three Washington buildings - he warmed to the message and requested the face-to-face meeting with the diplomats.
Initially police insisted that Khaalis demanded to come armed, along with some of his men, proposing that the police should also carry guns. Another hour of argument by police brought his agreement that no one would carry guns.
Zahedi recalled that for the first five or 10 minutes Khaalis was "rather cool and formal." According to law enforcement officials. Khaalis began by demanding immunity from prosecution for himself and all of his gunmen. This was immediately refused.
As Khaalis, his son-in-law, three police officials and the three ambassadors sat at the oblong conference table, the atmosphere began to change. Men from vastly different backgrounds, ways of life and points of view spoke a common language of philosophy, religion, death, disaster and the consequences of one's actions.
Egypt's Ghorbal recited a familiar prayer in Arabic, which the Indiana-born Khaalis was able to comprehend. Iran's Zahedi spoke movingly of the dead members of Khaali's family, murdered by a rival group in 1973, and brought tears to Khaali's eyes.
Khaalis was angry about the sacrilege he believed to be involved in a new motion picture, "Mohammad, Messenger of God." He revealed that he had recently gone to New York to inspect a theater where the film was soon to open. "I could have blown up that theater and innocent people would have been killed," he said, according to Zahedi.
Khaalis never lost his temper during the meeting, nor did he say explicity that he had decided to surrender and release the hostages. After nearly three hours, he seemed extremely tired and very sad. Rather than risk upredictable reaction, the police decided it was better to stop without seeking a final conclusion.
The men around the table rose. Zahedi, who had been sitting to the right of Khaalis, threw his arms around the Hanafi leader in the embrace that is traditional at leave-taking among Middle Eastern men. Khaalis seemed momentarily embrassed. The others embraced or shook hands with him in saying goodbye.
The ambasssadors and police officials left the B'nai B'rith meeting at 11:10 p.m. Thursday with no certain knowledge that the end was near. Zahedi said he expected to resume the fact-to-face discussions, perhaps in dayling Friday, before a final conclusion could be reached.
The deal was struck in telephone conversations involving Cullinane and Rabe, on the one hand, and Khaalis on the other, sometime around 1 a.m. After obtaining authorization by top District and U.S. law enforcement officials, police agreed to release Khaalis without bail, and to allow the case to proceed at a normal pace through to courts. Usually a grand jury indictment would take about 50 days.
Throughout the telephone discussions, which began within an hour of the take-over of the B'nai B'rith building, Khaalis operated from the eighth-floor offices of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization devoted to refutation of antisemitism. Ironically, Khaalis made a number of strongly anti-Jewish remarks to the hostages and those around him. "I don't any of those Jew bastards taking my calls," he told Betty Neal, a hostage who agreed to act as his secretary, after first making cetain she was not Jewish.
The strange circumstances that brought Moslem ambassadors - one of them from an Arab nation technically at war with Israel - into the B'nai B'rith headquarters to negotiate with an American black professing Islam have rarely been matched in the annals of either diplomacy or law enforcement.
The ambassadors became involved only after clearance with Under Secretary of tate Philip C. Habib, speaking for the State Department. The decision to permit them to risk their lives by going into "occupied territory" was taken only after careful consideration of the potential international and human consequences should they, too, be taken hostage.
According to Zahedi, President Carter accepted the plan when it was initially presented to him by Attorney General Bell. "Later he hesitated because he did not want to have our lives in danger," the Iranian envoy said.
At one point, Zahedi wrote a letter for the record stating that it was "my own decision, my own risk" to go to the face-to-face meeting. The letter said he had been warned of the risks and apologized tothe shah, his head of state, for taking this action.
The letter was sent at Zahedi's order to the Iranian Embassy to be opened in case he did not come out alive. The dipomat said that he had also given thought to writing a letter to his daughter, Mahnaz, a student at Princeton.
Pakistani Ambassador Yaqub-Khan, a four-goal international polo player and formal lieutenant general, volunteered to go alone to meet Khaalis when negotiations to set up the meeting ran into complications. The Pakistani felt he had established special rapport in telephone conversations. "Let me have a shot at it," he demanded, but the others insisted that the meeting include police leaders as well as the two other diplomats.
Sometime Wednesday afternoon, it is not clear when, police established telephone contact with Khaalis. There was never any question," Chief Cullinane said later, "that Khaalis was absolutely in charge of his men at the other two locations." All phone contacts were with Khaalis.
Rabe, who has had a good deal of experience in such matters in Washington recently, was the chief contact, but not the chief. "There comes a time (in negotiations) when you have to turn something down," Cullinane said, "and that's my job."
Betty J. Neal, a secretary to the B'nai B'rith personnel director who became a captive secretary of sorts for Khaalis, said that when Khaalis became exasperated with Rabe, he would throw down the receiver, then pick it up and ask for Cullinane.
"We would call him," Cullinane said, "to see what he wanted and to check on his demands."
In a team effort almost from the start, first came Rabe and Cullinane, then the Justice and State Department experts. A team of psychiatrists and psychologists gave advice on how to respond to questions and what kinds of words and phrases should be avoided.
Through the afternoon hours Wednesday, Rabe asked questions and Khaalis made demands - stop the showing of the movie, "Mohammad, Messenger of God," and deliver the convicted murders of Khaalis' children to Khaalis.
The psychiatrists included Dr. Steven Pieczenik, a State Department expert who has worked in airplane hijackings and other hostage situations, and an FBI psychologist, Patrick Mullany, who also have specialized in hostage cases.
Also on hand was State Department Ambassador L. Douglas Heck, who heads a task force on terrorism and regularly assists in such circumstances. Heck first brought the Moslem ambassadors to the police command center in the municipal building at 300 Indiana Ave. NW.
Zahedi said later that it was his idea that the three work from the police center instead of at their offices or elsewhere.
By the time the ambassadors arrived Wednesday evening, Cullinane and the others had established a critical first agreement with Khaalis - that the Hanafis would not harm the hostages, and police would not storm the buildings.
The ambassadors and police officials spoke highly of each other's efforts.
Having the ambassadors there, Cullinane said, was particularly helpful because so much of the negotiating centered on Khaalis' religious faith. "Needless to say, Rabe and I are a little bit short in that area," Cullinane said.
Police had another advantage in that they knew Khaalis personally from the intensive investigation that led to the arrest and convictions in the 1973 Hanafi slayings. Homicide Chief Joseph M. O'Brien, who headed that investigation, was one policeman who later sat at the B'nai B'rith, conference table.
The psychology crucial to hostage negotiations, according to one expert who assisted in the Hanafi case, involves establishing mutual faith and trust. Rabe, the expert said, "was simply terrific. If he had not established that respect, it could have been a real disaster."
And on at least one occasion, when one of Khaalis' lieutenants noticed snipers located on rooftops near the B'nai B'rith buildings, Khaalis called Cullinane and demanded their removal. They were removed.
The ambassadors also were helpful in establishing the climate of trust, according to participants, even if that feeling was sometimes fleeting.
"We had the feeling after (a conversation), Zahedi said, "we have come close, we have come to an understanding. Then two hours later, we thought we had lost the whole contact that we had made."
According to Neal, the scretary, the telephone provided Khaalis' only source of information. When one of his mean turned on a portable radio the first evening, Khaalis told him to turn it off because it got on his nerves, she said.
Reporters from newspapers and radio stations throughout the country and from Australia, Mexico City and Paris also called, but Khaalis would not always speak to them, Neal said.
On calls from the ambassadors, Khaalis did most of the talking, Yaqub-Kahn said. "We were anxious to avoid a controversy with him. The last thing we wanted was that he should go off the deep end," Yaqub-Kahn said.
Some time Thursday morning, while the ambassadors were out, Khaalis first proposed a face-to-face meeting with the ambassadors in a phone conversation with Rabe and Cullinane.
By the time it was possible to talk with the ambassadors about the subject. Khaalis was not interested. Instead, he had been outraged by the arrival in Washington of Black Muslim leader Wallace Muhammad. Black Muslims Khaalias' children and others at his were convicted of the brutal murder of headquarters in 1973.
Khaalis' wife had called his to tell him that Wallace Muhammed was in town.
In subsequent discussions with negotiators, according to one source, Khaalis became extremely angry and shouted that his demands were not being understood. Negotiators countered with the honest answer that they had not known that Wallace Muhammad was coming to town.
That crisis passed. At about 5:30 Thursday, Yaqub-Khan thinks, the break-through was achieved Khaalis once again said he wanted to visit with the ambassadors.
The problem of whether that meeting would be held on the first floor or the eighth floor was resolved. A table was set up. Officials began arriving at the Gramercy Inn next door, and watching reporters had their first clue that a break had been made.
After standing in the Gramercy Inn lobby for a while, the three ambassadors, Cullinane, Rabe and O'Brien walked to the B'nai B'rith building. "I think we were all worried that the result would not be successful," Zahedi said.
There was another problem. The table had been set up in the center of the lobby at B'nai B'rith, clearly visible from the street to press and as Khaalis told negotiators, snipers alike.
The table was moved to the back room, and three grueling hours of discussions began. "Whatever we said to each other, it came from the heart," Zehedi said.
Throughout the long hours, Cullinane said later, and despite the overlay of White House, State Department, Justice Department and ambassadorial influence, "I absolutely had none of the problems that people would generally assume you would have. Everybody deferred to the department's judgement. There was no attempt on anybody's part to take it over.
"Maybe nobody else wanted it."