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Warren Christopher

10/27/2003:

Today marks four important anniversaries and birthdays in this state. First, the founding of two North Dakota counties: Cass County was organized on this date in 1873 and was named for George Cass, a former president of the Northern Pacific Railway, and eight years later, in 1881, LaMoure County was founded and named for Judson LaMoure, a powerful man in territorial and state development.

Today is also the birthday of two of North Dakota’s most famous politicians: Teddy Roosevelt, who was born in 1858 and Warren Christopher, who was born in Scranton, North Dakota, in 1925.

Warren Minor Christopher started out his adulthood by fighting in World War II, then studying law at Stanford University. After graduating, he immediately jumped into the highly desirable position of clerk to Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas in 1949. His next major career boost came in 1967 when he was appointed to the post of deputy attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson.

Jimmy Carter was the next president to pick him up when he named Christopher Deputy Secretary of State. Christopher then became the chief American negotiator in the 1980-81 talks that ended the Iranian hostage crisis, for which he is perhaps best known.

The crisis began on November 4th, 1979, after the U.S. government had allowed the ousted Shah of Iran to come to the U.S. for medical treatment. A mob of 3,000 outraged militants invaded the American embassy in Tehran and took sixty-six hostages, demanding a return of the shah in exchange for the hostages.

Iran's political and religious leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, took over the hostage situation and agreed to release 14 non-U.S. captives, as well as female and minority Americans, saying these groups were among the people oppressed by the United States government. The remaining 52 captives were held hostage for the next fourteen months.

Despite his gift for diplomacy, President Carter couldn’t resolve the crisis, even after the Shah died. So in April of 1980, a disastrous rescue mission was carried out, only to have eight U.S. soldiers killed and no hostages rescued. Largely as a result, Carter lost his bid for re-election in November, but he and Christopher continued to work on the crisis by asking for assistance from Algerian intermediaries.

Progress was made, but the last days of Carter’s tenure were fast closing in. Finally, Carter told Warren Christopher to warn the Algerians that the Carter presidency would end the next day at noon. After that, he warned, neither he nor Christopher could speak for the United States, and the entire negotiating process would have to start over from scratch.

Christopher was successful. Minutes after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, a Secret Service agent pushed through the crowd at the Capitol to inform Jimmy Carter that at 12:33 p.m., the first plane carrying the hostages had taken off from Tehran, and the second one had left nine minutes later.

President Reagan got the word at the inaugural luncheon – and it was to be his first official announcement to the American people. It had to be a bittersweet moment for Carter and Christopher... but they had succeeded; the 444 day crisis was ended, and the hostages were coming home.

Warren Christopher went on to serve as Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, making him the highest ranking official in the Cabinet and the President's most important foreign policy advisor, as well as fourth in line to the Presidency.

In 1981, President Carter awarded Christopher the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying, “Warren Christopher has the tact of a true diplomat, the tactical skills of a great soldier, the analytical ability of a fine lawyer, and the selfless dedication of a citizen-statesman. His perseverance and loyalty, judgment and skill have won for his country new respect around the world and new regard for the State Department here at home.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm