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Warren Christopher and the Iran Hostages


On this day in 1981, Warren Christopher was awarded the nation’s highest civilian award – the Medal of Freedom – by President Jimmy Carter. Christopher was near the end of his service as Deputy Secretary of State during the Carter administration.

Actually, there were four days remaining before the next President would assume office, and Warren Christopher was so busy finishing the task for which he was receiving the award, his wife Marie accepted it for him.

Christopher had worked for many months on sensitive negotiations to secure the release of 52 Americans held hostage in Iran. In fact, he was at the American Embassy in Algeria writing the final draft of the hostage-release agreement when his award was presented.

Four days later (25 years ago this week), just minutes after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration on January 20th, the hostages were finally freed from Iran.

At the Medal of Freedom presentation, President Carter proclaimed, “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.”

Years later, when Christopher was serving as Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, Carter recalled the occasion, “…in the presence of all my other cabinet members – he was a sub-cabinet member then – I remarked that he was the finest public servant I had ever known. He was the interlocutor between the White House and Iran, and it was his determination, and his courage, and his ability as a negotiator, his wisdom, that resulted in the release of every American hostage, safe and free.”

Warren Christopher was born and raised in Scranton, Bowman County, in the southwest corner of North Dakota. In his memoir, published in 2001 and entitled “Chances of a Lifetime,” Christopher recounts the events of his life and reflects on how he became who he is. Chapter One is called “Starting from Scranton.”

Christopher tells of accompanying his banker father on visits to struggling farm families during the Great Depression. He writes, “The human scenes I witnessed in the flat, dry North Dakota plains while at my father’s side may account more than anything else for the tilt of my social and political concerns in the direction of the unfortunate.”

“The Depression years in Scranton,” he continues, “taught me something else—the look and sound of dignity and stoicism in the face of adversity. The people of this town and its surrounding farms did not whimper or complain no matter how unfair life seemed to be.”

The Christopher family left North Dakota for California when Warren was 13, but not before the place and the people had helped shape his brilliant young mind.
Some sixty years later, in June of 1998, he returned to Scranton to accept another award – North Dakota’s Roughrider Award. Governor Ed Schafer made the presentation, with Warren and Marie Christopher both in attendance!


Christopher, Warren. Chances of a Lifetime. New York:Scribner, 2001.