Shortly before his sudden departure from Washington nine months ago, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's ambassador to the United States gave a Persian rug to Henry A. Kissinger for his New York City apartment.
The gift from Ardeshir Zahedi was described almost casually by a Kissinger aide as "kind of a going-away present" from one friend to another. In this case, however, it bespoke a friendship between a former secretary of state and the emissary of the deposed ruler of Iran.
Zahedi had also given Kissinger and his wife a gold goblet as a wedding gift. Since Kissinger was then in office, that gift was turned in to the government, as were a silver tea set and a silver cigar box from the shah himself.
Friendships such as this, nurtured during the years when Kissinger was one of the shah's chief proponents in the U.S. government, would later form part of the backdrop for the crisis that has engulfed Washington and Tehran since the ailing shah was admitted to the United States for medical treatment four weeks ago, it has been alleged, at Kissinger's behest.
With concern for the American hostages foremost in American minds, the sophisticated and subtle seduction of high American officials, politicians and journalists by the shah's man in Washington has almost beeen forgotten.
The rust of reporters to the Iranian embassy to demand documents allegedly proving widespread payoffs to various American politicians ended months ago, and journalists probing on their own have been unalbe to substantiate the charges. Similarly, a House subcommittee investigating such allegations has produced no revelations worthy of the name "Iran-gate," which many reporters dubbed the affair. "Caviargate" more accurately describes the fruits of such labors.
The Iranian who made charges, Shahriar Rouhani, is no longer the ayatollah's man in Washington. His father-in-law, Ibrahim Yazdi, is no longer the ayatollah's man in Tehran. And Jafar Faghih, the charge d'affaires in the early post-shah days, is also long gone from the scene.
Zahedi, a gregarious Washington fixture formerly married to the shah's daughter, is still seeking political asylum in Switzerland, where he owns a villa in Montreux. "I don't think he will get it," said Roger Grossenbacker, the Swiss press attache here, this week.
During his six-year term as ambassador here, Zahedi's lavish parties and widespread gift-giving made him something of a local institution.
Thus the legacy of the Peacock Throne here is in part one of how the shah's ambassador plied prominent people with caviar and other gifts to win friends and influence for Iran on the Washington scene. Some of those people continue to defend the shah as the best friend and ally America ever had in that part of the world.
Between August and November of last year, Iranian influence was great enough for Zahedi to obtain U.S. government planes to visit the crown prince, then undergoing Air Force flight training in Texas. For four flights between Andrews Air Force Base and Lubbock, Tex., the Iranian government paid $29,605, an Air Force spokesman said.
In the two months before Zahedi's sudden flight to Switzerland, apparently on a commercial jet, the ambassador had spend $5,000 on flowers for prominent American friends, according to a former high-ranking embassy official. "I don't know if I'll ever see an account like it, or recover from its loss," said Washington florist Angelo Benito.
Zahedi's Christmas gift list was so large, said his former personal secretary here, that chauffeur-driven limousines were routinely rented to help distribute the presents.
At various other times, Zahedi gave away the clips, cuff links, Persian pill boxes, pistachios and gold coins, the last "to ladies he would meet officially in his travels,"according to Delphine Blachowicz, Zahedi's personal secretgary from 1973 to 1976.
Kissinger was high on Zahedi's gift list. Blachowicz said a small jeweled clock and a blue carpet were given the Kissinger in 1973 and 1974. Neither gift appears on the list of items turned over to the State Department.
Kissinger would not comment directly on Blachowicz' assertions but, through an aide, denied any knowledge of the two items.
"He's certain they turned in everything," the aide, William Hyland, said.
"Mrs. Kissinger wasn't wildly happy about [the State Department] ruling" requiring the turning in of the gifts.
Blachowicz said the clock was shown her, along with another for then-president Richard M. Nixon, by Zahedi's social secretary, Jarley Yazdan-Panah. "Delphine probably knows better than I do," Panah said. "I don't know anything."
Nixon's clock, initialed and inscribed with the words "Generation of Peace," is at the Federal Records Center in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
Blachowicz said she saw the royal blue rug in an office adjoining Zahedi's in the Massachusetts Avenue embassy. "I can remember it being rolled out one day so people immediately around the ambassador could view it," she said. She said Panah identified it as a wedding gift for Kissinger.
Kissinger was also on Zahedi's extensive caviar list. "I personally delivered caviar in 1975 to his suite at the [New York] Waldorf Towers," Blachowicz said.
"Kissinger and everybody else" in Washington got caviar, Hyland said.
"Caviar was sent if the ambassador wished to make an introduction, to gain entree to a particular individual," Blachowicz said. "Anyone who'd written anything he received favorably would be remembered. And if a prominent figure in government was promoted, I'd write a nice letter [on Zahedi's behalf]. With it would probably go the caviar."
Caviar was dispatched sometimes at the rate of six or eight tins a day, she said, and in two sizes: a 300-gram tin, worth about $150 here, and a 500-gram size, valued at $250. For Christmas and July 4th, the best grade "golden" caviar would arrive by diplomatic pouch for Washington distribution.
Blachowicz recalled the 1975 Christmas gift list as "mostly my work. I sat with the ambassador for several hours while he personally went over every name."
The final list, she said, included "20 in the White House, practically everyone in the Cabinet, lots of congressional figures and five in the (Central Intelligence) Agency." The year, she said, "The Turquoise Bridge," a handsome book of Persian art, was dispatched to Cabinet members and White House staff.
Also on the list, she said, were State Department officials "who dealt with Iran" and "a number of military people."
Several politicians and journalists who acknowledged accepting gifts from Zahedi described him as a "personal Friend" and insisted they were in no way compromised.
"I had a very close friendly relationship with Ardeshir," said Washington Star society columnist Betty Beale. "We'd try to give him a present and he'd turn around and out do you . . . I didn't get anything anyone else didn't get . . . No one I know sent it back."
Beale said she and her husband accompanied Zahedi and the shah's children on an Iranian plane touring the United States and Hawaii in 1978. "I had to fight to pay my own hotel bill" she said. Upon their return, she said she and her husband gave Zahedi a picture album of the trip.
Washington Post Style writer Sally Quinn said Zahedi had been a close friend of her parents since she was 18. "He sent caviar once or twice a year," she said. "I tried to send it back . . . It just drove me crazy."
Syndicated colunists Joseph Kraft and Carl T. Rowan, both of whom wrote sympathetically about the shah, were also on the gift list. "The last time I got some caviar, I sent it back," said Kraft, who said he once stayed at Zahedi's Tehran residence "because I couldn't get a hotel room."
"Not only was I a recipient of his caviar but he was a recipient of several gifts from me," said Rowna. "Ardeshir and I were very close friends."
Rowan said he "worked very closely with Zahedi in getting an Iranian government grant for Howard University, "I wrote a letter to the shah that broke the logjam," he said.
"We were very good friends," said Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) of his relationship with the shah's ambassador. "He gave my wife caviar once in a blue moon. She likes it. I don't."
Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) received "wine or caviar occasionally," according to an aide, who added, "but they were close personal friends."
During a 1975 visit here by the shah, Blachowicz said, Zahedi sent a small painting to Marion Javits, the New York senator's wife who the following year briefly took a $67,500 public relations job with Iran Air.
Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.), responding to a Washington Post inquiry about the gift, said through an aide that the small, sytlized Persian depiction of a dog given his wife was "sitting on the floor in a closet."