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Behind the Headlines Kreisky Sought to Induce the U.S. to Use the PLO As the Instrument to Release T

February 5, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

— Shortly after Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Teheran on Nov. 4, 1979 and took 60 Americans hostage, Chancellor Bruno Kreisky of Austria made strenuous efforts to induce the United States to utilize the Palestine Liberation Organization as the instrument for their release and thereby extend at least de-facto recognition to the terrorist organization.

The revelation of Kreisky’s machinations, the U.S. consultations with Israel that immediately followed and the Carter Administration’s ultimate rejection of the PLO channel, are detailed in an article by former White House Counsel Robert Lipshutz who President Carter dispatched on a top secret mission to Vienna on Nov. 10, 1979 to speak with Kreisky.


The article, just released, also discloses that Israel was consulted in the early days of the hostage crisis as to whether a rescue attempt was feasible–and concluded that it was not–and that the U.S. had a “private channel of communication with the PLO” established sometime previously “with Israeli concurrence.”

According to Lipshutz’s account, three days after the Embassy seizure he was contacted by a New York attorney and friend, Leon Charney, who also knew Kreisky and was told that the Austrian Chancellor had invited him (Charney) “and someone else who could speak for the American government” to come to Vienna to discuss the hostage situation “and that such a trip might be productive toward releasing the hotages.” Charney was also the “personal attorney and confidant” of the then Israeli Defense Minister, Ezer Weizman.

President Carter authorized Lipshutz to make the trip. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance instructed him to report through Assistant Secretary of State Harold Saunders who headed the American Iran Task Force.

Lipshutz had his first private meeting with Kreisky at the latter’s home on Nov. 11, accompanied by Charney and the U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Milton Wolf. Subsequent meetings were attended by Austria’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Dr. Herbert Amry, whom Kreisky described to Lipshutz “as a man with the most knowledge about and best relationship with the PLO” who “would serve as a consultant to us and as liaison with the PLO.”


At the initial meeting, according to Lipshutz, Kreisky insisted “that if anyone in the world could persuade (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini to release the American hostages, that person was Yasir Arafal, leader of the PLO, and that the United States should do business with Arafat.”

In that connection, Kreisky pointed out that the PLO had taken the lead in training Khomeini’s “guerrillas” and military personnel “and that the PLO and the militants who seized the Embassy virtually were interchangeable. Further, he reminded us that Arafat and the PLO were practically the only ones who openly befriended Khomeini and his people while they were in exile from Iran,” Lipshutz wrote. “What Kreisky did not remind us of were these facts (although I was quite aware of them) that Kreisky himself was the leading advocate among European leaders for recognition of the PLO; that the PLO abtains practically all of its arms from the Soviet Union; that Arafat at that very moment was conferring with Russian leaders in Moscow…and that the Soviet stood to profit greatly from friction between Iran and the United States…”

“Bruno (Kreisky) then, with all the persuasiveness he could muster, urged me to meet and talk with the PLO leader Issam Sartawi, who was in Vienna” and who Kreisky described as a man whose life “is in constant danger from radical Palestinians” because he is “dedicated to the cause of bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” Lipshutz said Kreisky insisted he should meet Sartawi “regardless of the fact that the United States had a commitment to Israel not to do so…”

Furthermore, according to Lipshutz, “Kreisky stated that he wanted our government to take ‘demonstrable action’ openly and directly with the PLO which would be de-facto recognition of the PLO…even though he tried to assure us that this was not a quid-pro-quo to get Arafat’s intervention with Khomeini in the hostage situation.” Lipshutz wrote that he remained non-committal.


Meanwhile, Kreisky made arrangements for Charney to fly to Israel to meet with Weizman. “Weizman called together a meeting of his top military and intelligence advisers to discuss all possible plans by which the American hostages might be rescued, and actually allowed Charney to sit in on at least part of the meeting.”

With respect to that phase of the consultations, Lipshutz wrote that “Even though the Israelis probably know as much about Teheran and Iran and the Iranian people as anyone in the world, Weizman and his advisors concluded that they would see no way to conduct a successful military mission to rescue our hostages.”

As for the Austrian-PLO propostion, Lipshutz wrote that “Weizman told Charney that any quid-pro-quo approach by the United States to the PLO, even relating to the Iranian hostage matter, would be a serious indication to the Israelis that the United States government did not have sufficient resolve to fulfill its commitments and that U.S. ‘capitulation’ in this regard well might have a terminal effect on the peace treaty proceedings because the United States’ commitments in the Egyptian-Israeli peace process are so vital–even though Israel fully recognized that 60 American lives were at stake in the Iranian situation.” Lipshutz continued:

“Charney believed that the situation in Israel, both with reference to its economic problems and its political instability, was so bad that any miscalculation on our part relative to contacts with the PLO, could precipitate an Israeli reaction

which, although perhaps emotional, might be the pretext for drastic action taken for the purpose of unifying the Israeli people.”


On Nov. 14, Lipshutz spoke with Saunders by telephone from Vienna and was told “that about an hour earlier the decision had been reached and ‘the project had been wrapped up.’ Saunders advised me as follows:

1) that the decision had been made to pursue only the private channel of communication with the PLO which had been established months earlier with Israeli concurrence, and not the public channel urged by Kreisky.” (The author does not elaborate on the nature of the “private channel” or “Israeli concurrence.”)

“2) that there would be no public recognition of or quid-pro-quo with, the PLO;

3) that I should explain this decision to Kreisky, express our appreciation for his assistance and advice, and try to keep the Kreisky connection warm but not hot…”


Summarizing the episode, Lipshutz noted that throughout the hostage crisis President Carter’s guiding objectives were “to protect the safety and obtain the release of the American hostages and to protect the integrity and national interests of the United States….The President refused to deal with the PLO (other than through non-public channels of communication previously agreed to by our government and by Israel), despite the possible assistance Arafat might have given to obtain the release of the hostages. Such action would have violated our nation’s agreement with its friend, the State of Israel, an agreement which was made by Secretary of State Kissinger at the conclusion of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

“Further, he never publicly revealed the close ties of the Iranian government and militants with the PLO, and possibly the Soviet Union, which revelation might have endangered even more the lives of the hostages. Further, despite the tremendous political advantage which would have been his in the Presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter never revealed this ‘Austrian connection’ and his refusal to legitimize the PLO and reward their terrorist actions, even under these most tempting of circumstances.”

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