Interview with the Iranian wife of one of the former US. hostages in Iran and the current US Ambassador to Mauritania
by: Shirin Tabibzadeh
this issue of Rozaneh, we are pleased to have an interview with Mrs.
Parvaneh Limbert. Born and raised in Iran, Parvaneh is married to a
senior US diplomat, Dr. John
Limbert,the US ambassador to Mauritania. Dr.Limbert
was one of the 52 US diplomats held hostage by the Islamic regime in
NOTE: This interview has been done through correspondence.
Rozaneh--Mrs.Limbert, how good of you to accept my invitation for this interview. Please tell us how you met Dr.Limbert and where and when you were married?
--Thank you, I met John in Iran while he was a Peace Corps volunteer. We got married at the end of his tour.
Rozaneh--After your marriage, did you live in Iran? If yes, for how long?
--Yes, we lived in Iran for a few months. Indeed two months after our marriage, we left Iran for the U.S.so that he could continue his graduate studies at Harvard. Later on, we returned to Iran and lived there for around four years.
Rozaneh--How many years after your marriage did the hostage crisis happen?
--13 years after our marriage.
Rozaneh--Did Dr. Limbert live in Iran and work at the Embassy before or during the revolution?
--He never served there before the revolution as a diplomat. He worked in Iran as a teacher. He went to Iran as a diplomat after the revolution and he had been there for about 2 months when the Embassy was taken.
Rozaneh--Did you and your children live in Iran at the time?
Rozaneh--How did you hear about the hostage taking, what was your first reaction?
--Through radio, papers, and reports from the State Department. I could not believe what had happened. I said they canít be Iranian. It is impossible!. But later on, I came to realize that it was true and my husband was one of the hostages taken by my own compatriots.
Rozaneh--Were your children old enough to understand? What were some of their reactions?
--Yes, They were 10 and 8. We always took them to Iran to see their grandparents and relatives. They had good memories and always wanted to go and spend their summer vacations there. For them it was very difficult to understand why those nice people turned out to be so nasty.
Rozaneh --Your major apprehensions?
--My major apprehension was that we did not know really who those people (students) were -- where they came from and where they had been trained.
Rozaneh--Adverse physical and psychological reactions, for example, depression, insomnia, migraines, ph? How did you cope with them?
--It was such a devastating period in my life. I went through a very very difficult time. Being of Iranian origin, I constantly asked myself how could it be possible for the people of the country that I loved so, where I was born and raised, to capture my husband who went there only eager to serve. I always thought that those people had made a grave mistake by doing that and how greatly they had damaged the country.
But I had to remain strong and take one day at a time for the sake of my children. I did not want them to worry more than they already did.
Rozaneh-What did you do to help them, how?
--Just tried to help them to have a normal life, like other kids their age.
Rozaneh--What were the reactions of your husband's family towards you as his wife? As an Iranian? Was it antagonistic or did they understand?
--My husband's family are middle class, educated, and understanding people. For them, it was a shock also, because his parents had served in Iran, lived there, and knew the country and the people well. They could not believe these are the same nice people they had met and befriended with back in Iran. They always had sympathy for me.
Rozaneh --As the wife of a diplomat, you were in contact with members of the diplomatic corps, military attaches, and other officials (both US and the international community); were there ever cause for embarrassment or defensive feelings simply because you were from Iran yourself?
--No, everyone was very sympathetic at that time. But even if there were, I did not sense or detect it. Our children though, sometimes had tough times at school, harassed by other children.
Rozaneh--Was the U.S. Government in contact with you? Did you know what they were doing? Did you know about the rescue plan that failed?
--The State Department constantly kept in touch and advised us on what to do. They always wanted to know how the children and I were doing. As for the rescue plan, I did not know anything until it was announced on the Television.
Rozaneh--Where you at all in touch with your husband through mail, etc.?
--During the 444 days of his captivity I received about 4 or 5 letters from him.
Rozaneh --Did you have any family members in Iran at the time? (Iranian citizens?)
--Yes, my brother and sister. My sister had some real tough times because my husband was staying with her when he first went to Tehran.
Rozaneh--Were your family in any danger, were they approached by the agents of the Islamic Republic?
--Yes, my sister had a very difficult time, because as I said before, John was staying at her place while our own residence was being prepared. She had been interrogated many times by the Komitehs.
Rozaneh--Were you aware of the situation and that they were sometimes being treated very badly?
Rozaneh--Were there times that you completely lost hope? What was going on in your mind?
--Yes, many times I had bad moments and lost hopes. We did not know how many different groups of people were controlling the situation. I was afraid while those groups were fighting among themselves, they would harm the hostages and with them my husband would lose his life.
Rozaneh--During those days, what helped you most to go on and not give up?
--The hope of finding a way out of it all, when the negotiation started. I thought that was the only chance we had for their release and that was the best means of getting results even if it had to take longer. I believe in negotiation, in most cases, to stop further damage.
Rozaneh--What is your worst memory, anything that made you lose hope totally?
--My worst memory was the failure of the first negotiation and the decision within the Islamic Parliament. Then I thought we were really in big trouble.
Rozaneh--Where you ever mad at the U.S. Government for being helpless?
-- No. The US government was doing everything they could to bring the hostages home safely.
Rozaneh--Who did you contact and ask for help?
--The State Department, mostly.
Rozaneh--Did you know anything more than the public knowledge about their imminent release before it actually happened?
-- No. I knew that the negotiations were going ahead. Of-course everyone knew that through the media.
Rozaneh--How did you find out about their release?
--They contacted me from the State Department
Rozaneh--After your husband's return, had his behavior changed at all towards you for being an Iranian?
-- No. Not at all. He even had more contact with his own Iranian friends.
Rozaneh--What did your husband tell you about the hardship as a hostage that you can disclose to our readers?
--He really has not told me much about that, not even after so many years, maybe because he does not want to make me unhappy or embarrassed.
Rozaneh--Can you tell us if they tortured the hostages or abuse them?
--Yes in some ways. In general if you keep someone against his own will, it is a form of torture also.
Rozaneh--Did the fact that Dr. Limbert is fluent in Persian helped him or was it taken against him?
--Both. It helped him because he could communicate with the captors to relay problems, but sometimes this same fact worked against him and he was accused of different things because of that.
Rozaneh--As they were being moved from one place to the next, did your husband know of his whereabouts? Where were they kept other than the Embassy itself?
--Yes he knew. Even while he was being moved around blindfolded, he knew. He had lived in Iran for years and was quite familiar with the environment and the people. For a while he was kept in Evin Prison. He was then transferred to Isfahan after the rescue attempt on April 1980.
Rozaneh--Did they know that he was married to an Iranian woman?
--Yes, the students found out.
Rozaneh--Did the U.S. Government ask your advise as an Iranian?
--In some ways. But they did not need my advice, they had enough experts.
Rozaneh--When your husband was released you were invited to the White House, what did the President of the United States tell you that you still remember?
--We were all so excited that I don't remember what he exactly said. But I Remember Mrs. Reagan hugging and holding me. It was very emotional and there were tears in our eyes.
Rozaneh--You know many Iranians thought and still think that President Carter helped the revolution and the fall of the Shah. Being the wife of a US diplomat and as an Iranian woman what do you think?
--It was neither President Carter nor the US government that helped the revolution. It was the Iranians themselves, especially the educated middle class. There were corruptions within the government and too many dishonest people. Of course, it made everything ready for the opposition.
Rozaneh--In your view was America at fault at all in what happened in Iran during the revolution?
-- The whole world thinks it is America's fault when anything happens anywhere. Help or not help. United States has consistently sought and worked towards global peace to minimize global conflicts, much like a responsible parent.
Rozaneh--And life after the release of your husband? What did you do afterwards and what were your husband's position after he came back?
-- Excellent, happy reunited family. We had a great vacation visiting family and friends. Then he had a great peaceful teaching position at US Naval Academy.
Rozaneh--And now as the wife of the Ambassador in an African Country how do you feel? I haven't felt any changes in you, always so down to earth, how do you really feel? Are you proud for being the only Iranian woman married to an American Ambassador?
--I am honored to serve our country with my husband. I am proud of him and wish him more success. I am with him and supporting him wherever he goes. Even with my own responsibilities as a wife of the Ambassador I always think of myself first as a wife and a mother, more than anything else.
Rozaneh --In that capacity as the wife of an Ambassador do you ever remember your country of origin, do you talk about it to the people where you live, are you proud of your heritage?
A. Yes, I always remember where I was born and grew up. I remember my school and my friends so very well and think about them. I have great memories growing up with educated and honest parents and a happy family. There are many good memories. I sometimes miss those days. And yes, I always talk to people about where I lived and I am proud of my heritage. Heritage belongs to the country that people come from, not to the regimes of that country.
Rozaneh-- Would you ever return to Iran if you ever can? Do you have grudges against Iranians?
-- I always go back to my photo albums and remember those great days of high school, university, and work. Yes, I always hope that there will be peace and good relations between the two countries to allow all of us to travel and visit.
And no, I don't have any grudges against Iranians, but I do hold grudges against those people who held my husband hostage and created a miserable life for so many families.
Rozaneh--Any messages for your compatriots?
-- I wish them all a healthy and peaceful life.
Rozaneh --Thank you Mrs. Limbert, I really appreciate your kindness and I wish you and your husband a great life together, God bless.
-- Thank you.