A man with unique insight into the events that are playing out in Iran is Moorhead Kennedy. He was the acting head of the United States’ Embassy's economic section in Tehran when it was overrun by student protesters in 1979.
Kennedy was one of the 52 Americans held hostage for 444 days in that standoff. He wasn't released until January 20th, 1981 when President Reagan was inaugurated. Kennedy spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Thursday.
John Roberts: Do you see any parallels between what we’re seeing on the streets of Tehran now and what happened in 1979?
Moorhead Kennedy: Well, I think the biggest parallel is that at least some of the reaction against us in '79 was because...of past interference in Iranian affairs. And I think that there seems to, be from a lot of talk going around, that we should do something…about this election problem in Iran. It's the attitude that we have sometimes about Iran, a rather colonial attitude that has always been part of our problem with that country. And so I think if I had any conclusion to draw, we would have been much better off not interfering in Iran then and I think we're going to be much better off not interfering in Iranian affairs now.
Roberts: Now, you did say in an interview with the Daily Beast, “It's very counter-productive to interfere in someone else's election... I think the best thing the U.S. can do is shut up.” I ran your quote past Senator John McCain who is urging a more vocal response by the Obama administration. And he said yesterday, “We're not interfering in taking the side of the opposition, we're seeking, as we have throughout the world, a free and fair election.” Do you agree with what the senator said?
Kennedy: No, I don't agree because I don't see it's any business of ours to seek elections, fair elections, particularly in a sensitive area like Iran. John Quincy Adams said, “We don't go around seeking monsters to destroy.” And I think that that is their problem. It's something they've got to work out. And I think the United States, particularly in view of our past record of interference, it's much better for us to sit back, obviously express hope that there will be no violence, sort of general things of that nature, but don't be seen to interfere because we don't like the present president of Iran and we might like to have someone else in that job.
Roberts: Already the interior minister is trying to make this the fault of western countries. He’s out there on the streets giving many interviews saying this is all because the West is interfering in our electoral process. They’re putting pressure on us. They're trying to institute these policies of reform. They’re basically meddling in what we're doing. So, he's already trying to draw the United States in. Do you think it is prudent for this White House to take the standoffish approach that it has for fear of potentially getting drawn into this conflict?
Kennedy: It's not the fear of being drawn into a conflict. It's expressing our respect for a sovereign state that we do not interfere in the internal affairs of another country. And I think part of the Iranian deep, deep resentment of the United States is that we have never treated them with proper respect. And, of course, that's been furthered by some of the episodes in our relationship. Not only the famous CIA coup, but the fact that we…helped Saddam Hussein when he attacked Iran in 1980 and did not prevent him in any way from using chemical warfare against Iran. There are a great many resentments there. So if we have to hold back from interfering in any country, it should be Iran.
Roberts: So where do you see all of this heading – these street protests, this day of mourning? Apparently there are tens of thousands of people on the streets... Do you think this will play out over some and eventually die down? Or could this be the beginning of something even bigger?
Kennedy: Well…so far there doesn't seem to be an organized force to bring about a civil war or a rebellion, so far, against the established government. But don't forget, we're talking about two candidates for president. The real authority is in…the clerical and the religious headquarters with the Council of Guardians. And Iran has a far more stable structure than I think we give them credit for. And I think that's an important thing to remember.