The Times: A photo has emerged which it is claimed links the President-elect of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with the taking of 60 American hostages during the US embassy siege in Tehran in 1979. A London-based Iranian news agency which opposes Mr Ahmadinejad is circulating the photograph, which it says was taken by the Associated Press news agency on the first day of the hostage crisis.
By Sam Knight, Times Online
A photo has emerged which it is claimed links the President-elect of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with the taking of 60 American hostages during the US embassy siege in Tehran in 1979.
A London-based Iranian news agency which opposes Mr Ahmadinejad is circulating the photograph, which it says was taken by the Associated Press news agency on the first day of the hostage crisis.
In the picture, a man which the Iran Focus agency claims it has identified as Mr Ahmadinejad, is seen holding the arm of a blindfolded US hostage.
The possible role of Mr Ahmadinejad in the embassy takeover, which lasted 444 days and remains a significant sore between America and Iran, came to light in the run-up to the presidential elections on June 17.
Mr Ahmadinejad is known to have been member of the “Office for Strengthening of Unity Between Universities and Theological Seminaries” or the OSU, the main student group behind the takeover, but his precise role in the hostage-taking was unclear.
Yesterday, in an article on the BBC website, the broadcaster John Simpson appeared to pour fuel on the controversy when he said he recalled meeting Mr Ahmadinejad after the hostage crisis and remembered seeing him in the grounds of the embassy.
“When I read a profile of him in the English-language Tehran Times, I realised where I must have seen him: in the former American embassy in Tehran,” writes Mr Simpson.
“Ahmadinejad was a founder of the group of young activists who swarmed over the embassy wall and held the diplomats and embassy workers hostage for 444 days.”
And today, Mo Jazayeri, the executive editor of Iran Focus, the agency distributing the picture, was adamant that it showed Mr Ahmadinejad. He said: “We strongly believe it was 4 Nov 1979, the first day of the hosting taking in Tehran. The AP took these photos. There is also apparently footage which shows Ahmadinejad and several other hostage takers taking this hostage out of the compound and bringing him in front of the crowd which chants Death to America. It was a very horrific scene which was shown on television outside Iran worldwide.”
According to Michael Theodoulou, who covers Middle East affairs for The Times, the photograph, if genuine, could have a damaging effect on Mr Ahmadinejad’s relationship with America, which is already expected to be fractious.
“These images will really anger the Americans,” he told Times Online. “Britain is never really aware of the impact the hostage crisis had on the American pysche. No other foreign crisis had the same effect. It really formed the image of Iran in America and is a real source of the continuing hostility between the two countries.”
But the claims have been strongly denied by Mr Ahmadinejad’s office, which says that the man in the image is not him. Other hostage-takers who were present at the embassy siege also say that the President-elect was not involved in the storming of the embassy.
Ramita Navai, correspondent for The Times in Tehran, spoke to Abbas Abdi, one of the leading hostage takers, who has recently been released from prison, this morning. She said: “I spoke to Abbas Abdi today and he said that Ahmadinejad didn’t storm the embassy. And he also said: ‘Look, a lot of people came in and out of the embassy during the crisis. It went on for more than a year’.”
Ms Navai said that so many of the students involved in the hostage crisis went on to become politicians that there is no reason why Mr Ahmadinejad would disguise his role in the siege.
The claim of Mr Ahmadinejad’s identity in the photograph was made on the day that the president-elect gave an impassioned speech calling for a new Islamic revolution.
During his first press conference as President-elect last week, Mr Ahmadinejad struck a moderate note. But today, at a memorial service for families killed in a 1981 attack on the headquarters of the Islamic Republic Party, he said he hoped his election victory would spark a new global Islamic revolution.
“Thanks to the blood of the martyrs, a new Islamic revolution has arisen and the Islamic revolution of 1384 (the current Iranian year) will, if God wills, cut off the roots of injustice in the world,” the official IRNA agency quoted Mr Ahmadinejad as saying.
“The era of oppression, hegemonic regimes, tyranny and injustice has reached its end. The wave of the Islamic revolution will soon reach the entire world. In one night, the martyrs strode down a path of 100 years.”
Mr Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric will not be welcomed in the US or the EU. Last night, Javier Solana, the head of foreign policy for the EU, said that he will wait and see before judging the new government of Iran but insisted that the EU’s stance on Iran was clear:
“I repeat the importance the European Union attaches to political and economic reforms in Iran as well as progress on issues of concern: human rights, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism and the Middle East. Such progress is necessary for EU-Iran relations – including the negotiations for a trade and co-operation agreement – to reach their full potential.”
“Nothing outside these terms will be accepted. We need to wait and see how the new leadership will react to these ideas which they know very well are those of the EU,” he said.