One morning in the spring of 1959, Ghoga Khalatbary, a 22-year-old Iranian student who was studying here, rolled over in bed, stretched and rubbed his eyes -- then sat bolt upright.
Sitting on an old couch across the room of his tiny Q Street apartment was a somber, dark-haired young man, patiently waiting for him to wake up.
As Khalatary shook himself awake, the young man introduced himself politely. He was Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, an Iranian student who had recently arrived to study at Georgetown University.
He had come to meet Khalatbary, an Iranian poet of some renown, because he shared his outrage about the coup d'etat that had returned the shah of Iran to power five years earlier.
"Even back then, he was predicting that, any day, the shah would be overthrown," Khalatbary said recently as he reflected on his former friend Ghotbzadeh, who was since become Iran's foreign minister and one of the central figures iin the drama surrounding the fate of the 50 American hostages inTehran. "It took a little longer than he planned. But when it came, he was in the middle of it as we always knew he would be."
When Hotbzadeh (pronounced GOAT-za-day) and Khalatbary met, the future confidant of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had been in the United States for only a few weeks. But during the next four years, he was to rise from obscurity to become oneof the best known dissident Iranian students in the world.
In quick succession, he helped fellow antishahists seize control of an Iranian students association that many felt had been the puppet of the Iranian Embassy here. He stormed a posh party put on by the shah's son-in-law, the ambassador to the United States. He then became a cause celebre by fighting Iranian Embassy efforts to have him deported as a communist to face charges of treason in Iran. Only the timely intervention of a New Jersey senator and then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy saved him from a quick deportation. as a communist to face charges of treason in Iran. Only the timely intervention of a New Jersey senator and then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy saved him from a quick deportation.
In the end, Ghotbzadeh lost his battle to stay in the United States, in part because he was apparently a classic victim of Catch-22-style immigration regulations that forced him to renounce his valid visa when he applied for another type and then made it impossible for the old visa to be reissued when his application was denied.
But those who knew Ghotbzadeh in the early 1960s say that the man they now see on the nightly news shows appears to have changed little if at all. "Even then he believed that religion should be mixed in with the state," said Ali Mohammed Fatemi, an antishah student leader with whom Ghotbzadeh joined forces in 1960. "He was very political and . . . extremely arrogant."
Ghotbzadeh came to the United States to study at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in 1959. The son of a lumber merchant, he lived simply on what was sent to him from home, acquiring enough at one point to buy a beat-up Pontiac that ended up in a junkyard after an accident on 18th Street NW near Dupont Circle.
He wore ties and inexpensive suits, smoked Winstons and a pipe, seemed to enjoy the company of women, yet found the time to pray five times a day to Mecca, the holiest city of the Islamic faith.
Shortly after Ghotbzadeh and Khalatabary met, they become close friends and Ghotbzadeh, then 22, moved in with his literary friend in the 1700 block to Q street NW.
"We took turns sleeping on the bed," recalls Khalatbary, who now edits an Iranian paper here in Washington and disagrees totally with the taking of hostages in Tehran and Ghotbzadeh's politics. "One of us would sleep on the floor and the other on the bed. We would stay up late at night talking politics, talking about Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh [who was ousted as prime minister of Iran by the proshah forces in 1954]. If I came home late, he would have made me dinner. He was a most devoted friend."
The two pooled their limited resources and bought an old mimeograph machine for $20 from someone in Arlington.
"It was very bad," said Khalatbary. "I would write manifestos about Persian-American friendship, and he would write manifestos about Islamic solidarity. We would print about 50, 100, maybe 200 copies and then hand them out to fellow students."
Ghotbzadeh obtained funds from the Ayatollah Borjerdy, the leading Iranian religious figure at the time, and opened an office of "Islamic student brotherhood" in a tiny room on Dupont Circle. He furnished it with a battered desk, chair, telephone and couch and set about encouraging Iranian students to practice their Islamic fiath. But there was little business, and within six or eight months, the office closed.
About this time in New York, Ali Fatemi, who was then about 23, was contacted by the crew who filmed Edward R. Murrow's "CBS Reports" television news specials. "They wanted to interview me about Iran," said Fatemi, whose uncle, Hossein Fatemi, had been executed by the shah's troops because of his participation in the Mossadegh government.
Immediately after he appeared on the program, Fatemi started to receive phone calls and letters from Iranian students around the country who opposed the shah. One of those was Ghotbzadeh.
The two began to work together in September 1960 when Ardeshir Zahedi, Iran's new ambassador to the United States, decided he would cement his control of an Iranian student association by organizing a national convention in Ypsilanti, Mich. He invited all Iranian students in the country to attend and promised that the Iranian government would pick up the tab, Fatemi recalled.
But events swiftly outpaced Zahedi's efforts. His opening speech, in which he referred to the shah's takeover as a "great national uprising" brought hoots from the audience of students. When he eventually withdrew his support -- and his promise to pick up all the bills -- those who had taken to the floor to opose the shah were swept into office: among them were Fatemi as president and Ghotbzadeh as recording secretary.
It was Ghotbzadeh's first real brush with power politics and he liked it. He quickly set about looking for ways to put himself at the center of the action.
That opportunity came in February 1961 when Ghotbzadeh heard that Zahedi, then the shah's son-in-law, was planning a gala party for 650 of Washington's elite to mark the Iranian new year.
Ghotbzadeh wanted to get control of the microphone at the party, but he knew he would never be able to get to the stage because he was known as an agitator. So he drew up an elaborate plan.
He persuaded a student, who secretly opposed the shah but whose father was a prominent general in his army, to approach the ambassador and offer to make a speech in honor of the shah. The idea was warmly received by the Iranian embassy, which was always eager to find a friendly Iranian student.
But embassy officials wanted to read the speech ahead of time. So Ghotbzadeh drafted a grandiloquent speech in honor of the shah and the general's son submitted it as his own. The speech was promptly approved.
The night of the party, the general's son walked to the microphone and apologized hoarsely for being unable to speak -- unbeknown to the organizers, Ghotbzadeh earlier that day had forced him to shout until he lost his voice. Instead, the general's son announced, he would like his "close friend Sadegh Ghotbzadeh" to speak in his place.
The dissident students jumped to their feet, applauding madly, and were joined by most of the festive crowd.
Ghotbzadeh went to the microphone and apologized for having to speak in Persian.Then, to the horror of Zahedi and his wife, only a few feet away, he began praising the ousted Mossadegh regime. A student shouted, "Long Live Mossadegh," and the melee began.
Chairs were thrown, bottles heaved and one embassy staffer needed seven stitches to close a wound from a bottle thrown the length of the room. In the end, Ghotbzadeh was passed out the door over the crows's heads -- into the hands of hastily summoned police.
The incident made Ghotbzadeh a hero to the dissident students -- and earned him the lasting emnity of the Iranian ambassador.
But in the meantime, Ghotbzadeh was ignoring his studies at Georgetown. "He said over and over that getting a degree was not as important as overthrowing the shah," said a fellow Iranian student, who asked not to be identified.
But in late June 1961, Ghotbzadeh and Fatemi learned that the embassy was not going to renew their passports, making them subject to deportaion. The two students charged that the ambassador was trying to send them home for political reasons, while he said it was because of their grades.
Their cause sparked protests by Iranian students -- both here and in other countries, including Iran.
In mid-July, Ghotbzadeh, Fatemi and 10 others were arrested outside the embassy in one of the protests. Ghotbzadeh was subsequently convicted on disorderly conduct charges and failure to pay overdue parking tickets.
Meanwhile, Zehedi approached then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk and asked that 20 students -- including Ghotbzadeh and Fatemi -- be deported as communists, according to Dr. S. Fatemi, Ali's uncle. The incident is related in "Robert Kennedy and His Times," by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., but does not mention the students' names.
According to the book's account, Rusk approached Kennedy, who as attorney general was in charge of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Kennedy asked Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, an expert on Iran, for advice.
"I told him that it meant the shah was making up lists for the firing squad," Schlesinger quotes Douglas as saying. Douglas recommended that Kennedy ask the FBI to investigate the students and the attorney general later called back to say: "The FBI report is in, and not a bloody one of these kids is a communist, so I just told Rusk to go chase himself."
Meanwhile, Dr. Fatemi got Sen. Harrison A. Williams Jr. (D-N.J.) to sponsor a bill that would allow Ghotbzadeh to stay in the country despite an invalid passport.
But a few months after the bill was introduced in September, the senator's office mysteriously received information that was critical of the student: he had been convicted of crimes and his grades, contrary to initial reports, were extremely poor.
Williams decided to kill the bill, based on the information -- which Ghotbzadeh's friends believed was supplied by the embassy and the State Department.
The student's complicated battles with immigration authorities continued for another two years, until he was finally forced to leave in 1963. He returned again to study at Georgetown in 1966, and apparently returned once or twice on temporary visas later on.
One Iranian student, who was particularly close to Ghotbzadeh, recalled seeing him in 1976 at a funeral for a popular antishah figure in New York.
"We talked and he asked me how I was doing," recalled the friend, who asked not to be identified. "I told him I was working to finish my master's degree and that I had a family. I had done my part in the struggle, I told him.
"But he became very bitter," the friend related. "He said that education matters not at all as long as the shah is in power. Here it was, 16 years later, and he had not changed at all. There was still only one thing he wanted: to overthrow the shah."