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Friday, 31 July, 1998, 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK
Tehran embassy reunion pushes peace
rosen and abdi
Rosen and Abdi: unlikely double act
Nearly 20 years after US embassy staff were held hostage in Iran one of the former prisoners has been meeting one of his captors in an effort to promote reconciliation between the two countries.

Barry Rosen was press attaché at the embassy in Tehran when it was seized in November 1979. Abbas Abdi was a militant student who helped organise the hostage taking which led to 52 Americans being held captive for 444 days.

The two men shook hands at a news conference in France on Friday in an extraordinary attempt at bridge-building arranged by the Centre for World Dialogue.

However, the meeting was overshadowed by familiar tensions between the US and Iran.

Mr Abdi, 42, stressed that his presence was "a personal initiative".

'Hostage-taking saved US lives'

He offered no regrets over the hostage crisis, saying it was the US which held Iran "hostage for 25 years" by actively supporting the Shah of Iran. The Shah fled to the US after being deposed during the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The leader of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini: despised US
Mr Abdi said: "The seizure of the US embassy in Tehran was the most non-violent measure possible taken in Iran in response to what the United States had done.

"If such action had not taken place, armed groups would have attacked the embassy sooner or later, which would have resulted in the murder of several Americans."

The news conference was interrupted three times by Iranian protestors accusing Mr Abdi of organising the deaths of thousands of political prisoners after the Islamic revolution.

Hopes for improved relations

Ignoring the outbursts, Mr Rosen, 54, said he knew Mr Abdi "only as someone who helped cause much personal trauma to innocents".

He said he had decided to see him "because I sensed the time had come to put 'closed' on 444 days that brought me great pain - partly because I want to enjoy the anticipation that a new page in Iranian-American history may soon be turned".

But he added: "The people who squashed the human rights of those Americans may continue ignoring their blatant violation of accepted international standards. No matter how they rationalise, however, they must face up to that wrong and admit, if only to themselves, that it was unjustified."

Warm private meeting

A private meeting between the two men before their public appearance was reportedly much friendlier.

Eric Rouleau, a French diplomat and journalist who persuaded the men to meet, said both had hoped that talking to each other would help the process of "normalisation between the American and Iranian people".

He said that there was a moment of silence when the Iranian and the American were first introduced to each other at a dinner at a Paris hotel this week.

However, within minutes the former hostage and his jailer were laughing and joking in Persian like old friends, he added.

Eric Rouleau.wav
French diplomat Eric Rouleau: two men were spellbound
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