William H. Sullivan

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Sullivan next served as U.S. Ambassador to Iran, arriving just before President Jimmy Carter's visit to the Shah of Iran in December 1977. In the 1970s, America had extremely close military and economic links with Iran.

As demonstrations increased in scale, Sullivan came into conflict with National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski over a resolution that would be acceptable to American interests. Sullivan felt that compromise with the demonstrators and the Ayatollah Khomeini was necessary, while Brzezinski favored strong, unconditional support for the Shah and Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar. Although Brzezinski got his way, the demonstrators prevailed; in late 1978, Sullivan cabled Washington that it might be necessary to consider policy options if the military proved unable to assure the shah's continuance in power and the shah should depart from Iran. [11] In January 1979, the White House instructed Sullivan to inform the shah that the U.S. government felt he should leave the country. [12]

On February 1, 1979, the exiled Khomeini returned to Tehran. Days later, with Tehran in revolution and all organs of state essentially nonexistent, Under Secretary of State David D. Newsom called from the White House Situation Room with a question for Sullivan: "The National Security Advisor (Brzezinski) has asked for your view of the possibility of a coup d'état by the Iranian military to take over from the Bakhtiar government, which is clearly faltering."

Sullivan allegedly replied, "Tell Brzezinski to fuck off."

"That's not a very helpful comment," Newsom noted.

"You want it translated into Polish?" Sullivan hung up. [13]

On February 14, 1979, the US Embassy in Teheran was overrun by several different armed groups. [14] The Embassy staff was briefly taken hostage, but later released to the caretaker Iranian government. This crisis, which predated the larger Iran Hostage Crisis by nine months, became sarcastically known as the "St. Valentine's Day Open House" owing to the date on which it occurred. [15]

He wrote in his autobiography: "I had recommended that we accept the fact that a revolution was in progress and seek to use our not inconsiderable influence to steer its success toward its more moderate protagonists." This view, however, was not shared by Washington, and Sullivan was recalled in March 1979. Shortly after, on April 1, 1979, Iran officially became an Islamic Republic.

After Sullivan left Iran, the Embassy drew down to a skeleton staff, under the direction of Chargé d'Affaires Bruce Laingen, who later became one of 52 Americans held hostage by militant Iranian students.

He headed the American Assembly at Columbia University, which had been briefly headed by General Dwight Eisenhower before he was elected President, from 1979 to 1986. In 1981, Sullivan published Mission to Iran, a memoir of his time as ambassador. His autobiography, Obbligato: Notes on a Foreign Service Career, was published in 1984. [16]

Later career

He later served on the boards of the Lincoln Center, the International Center, and the U.S.- Vietnam Trade Council.

In 1988 he received an overture to begin steps towards U.S.-Vietnam normalization from his former North Vietnamese negotiations counterpart Nguyen Co Thach, who had become Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. Sullivan first traveled back to Vietnam in May 1989 to meet with Minister Thach, founded the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council, and from then continued to work on steps towards the historic normalization.

Following retirement, he lived a quiet life in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and later, Washington, D.C.

William H. Sullivan died on October 11, 2013, one day before his 91st birthday. [1] He is survived by 4 children and 6 grandchildren.

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  1. 1 2 3 William Branigin (2011-02-22). "William H. Sullivan dies at 90; veteran diplomat oversaw 'secret war' in Laos". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
  2. Obbligato: Notes on a Foreign Service Career, William H. Sullivan. W.W. Norton & Co. Inc. New York, 1984, p. 21
  3. Obbligato, pp. 73 -76.
  4. Stewart Alsop (1968), The Center: People and Power in Political Washington, 1968 reprint, New York: Popular Library, Ch. 5, "The Sad State of State", p. 101.
  5. Obliggato, pp.162-172.
  6. Obbligato, pp. 197- 208
  7. Obbligato, p. 228.
  8. Thecrimson.com/article/1971/2/23/air-war-in-laos
  9. "Interview with William H. (William Healy) Sullivan, 1981 - WGBH Open Vault". Openvault.wgbh.org. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
  10. Obbligato, p. 254. See also, The Lucky Few, Jan Herman, U.S. Naval Institute ISBN   9780870210396
  11. Mission to Iran. Pp. 203-204.
  12. Mission to Iran, pp. 227–230.
  13. Ken Follett (1983), On Wings of Eagles, 1986 reprint, New YorK: New American Library, Ch. 9, Sec. 2, p. 269, ISBN   0-451-14505-4 .
  14. "US Embassy stormed by Tehran mob | 1970-1979 | Guardian Century". Century.theguardian.com. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
  15. Mission to Iran, pp. 257 – 268. See also, pbs.org/egbh/frontline supra.
  16. Obbligato: Notes on a Foreign Service Career, William H. Sullivan, W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., New York, 1984. ISBN   0-393-01809-1.
William H. Sullivan
The Shah with Atherton, Sullivan, Vance, Carter and Brzezinski, 1977.jpg
The Shah of Iran meeting with Alfred Atherton, William Sullivan, Cyrus Vance, U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1977.
United States Ambassador to Iran
In office
June 18, 1977 April 6, 1979
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
United States Ambassador to Laos
Succeeded by
Preceded by
United States Ambassador to the Philippines
Succeeded by