Why the exiled Shah preferred Sadat's promises to Carter's
The deposed shah of Iran, now resting in an Egyptian military hospital, feels that the Carter administration repeatedly let him down during his past 14 months of exile.
Moreover, the Shah's decision to exchange his three- month-old Panamanian exile March 23 for Egyptian sanctuary was not a sudden action, but rather one whose origins go back to the early days of his residence in Panama.
Sources close to the Shah during his Panamanian stay say he came more and more to doubt Washington's interest in his welfare. As he began to have doubts about remaining in Panama, he felt something like a man without a country -- and without friends.
On more than one occasion, he bitterly criticized the United States for failing to stick by him, recalling President Carter's lavish praise in 1978 and wondering now if the US President was not "a fair-weather friend."
"I can do without friends like that," he complained last month.
Specifically, the Shah charges that President Carter failed to live up to earlier promises of protection and medical attention. He holds that when he asked in early March for permission to enter the US for medical treatment in Houston, Washington suggested he seek the treatment elsewhere. This, in his view, meant that the Carter administration was reneging on a three-month-old promise to allow him access to medical care in the US.
For their part, senior Carter administration officials deny that the US either reneged or closed the door on the Shah's possible return to the US for medical care. They admit, however, that they encouraged him to have surgery in Panama.
But to the Shah, this meant that the US was not living up to a specific promise made last December. That promise is containe din the so-called "Lackland agreements," which led to his acceptance of Panamanian exile.
Those agreements, in a nine-point document drawn up Dec. 14 at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas where the Shah was temporarily lodged following his New York hospitalization, have never been publicly disclosed. But they are understood to have provided not only for the Shah's return to the US for medical care when and if needed, but also for his continuing personal security and other details regarding exile in Panama.
Soon after his arrival in Panama Dec. 15, however, the Shah began to doubt the sincerity, and the ability, of the US to provide for his security. "We had begun to feel that once we were off United States soil," an aide to the Shah in Panama said, "the United States simply said, as you put it, 'good riddance' -- and forgot about us."
In his homeland, the revolutionary government announced plans Dec. 24 to extradite the former monarch from Panama. And some Panamanian legal authorities began saying in early January that despite constitutional prohibitions on extradition to countries that practice the death penalty, extradition might well be possible.
By mid-January the Shah was becoming increasingly disturbed. His aides in January and February sought unsuccessfully to win assurances from Panama that he would not be subjected to a battle over extradition. In seeking similar assurances through US officials, they ran into what they perceived as a lack of sympathy for the former Iranian leader and some major doubts about whether Washington would honor the Lackland accords.
The Shah by late January had became openly critical of the Carter administration. He suggested to his aides that he doubted the US would provide "for our protection in any and all emergencies."
With his anxiety about the US role growing and the extradition process looming, the Shah was given a medical prognosis March 2 that suggested he would require a major operation. Preferring to have surgery in the US, he informally asked the US to allow him to return to the US for the treatment. But he received word from Washington indicating he would not be allowed back into the US for the surgery nor into any of the US hospitals at Balboa in the former Panama Canal Zone.
Then, when Panama refused Houston surgeon Michael E. DeBakey permission March 16 to operate on the Shah in Panama, the former monarch's advisers drew up a formal request that that the Carter administration live up to its word on the Lackland agreements.
According to those in his entourage, the Shah had become obsessed with the possibility of "medical murder" at the hands of Panamanian doctors. This, in turn, hardened the position of Panamanian authorities, who saw in the Shah's attitude a slur on their country's medical profession.
At that point, with the Shah's continued exile in Panama in doubt and worried about what this would do to the hostage negotiations in Tehran, President Carter dispatched Hamilton Jordan to Panama to see what could be salvaged out of the dilemma. Mr. Jordan sought to persuade (1) the Shah to remain in Panama, and (2 ) Panama to allow Dr. DeBakey to perform surgery on the Shah there.
He succeeded on the second point. But it was too late. The Shah, growing increasingly anxious over the prospect of extradition and doubting that the Carter administration had either the will or the strength to protect him, took matters into his own hands March 23 while Mr. Jordan was still in Panama. He decided to go to Egypt.
An adviser to the Shah still in Panama, wrapping up loose ends from the three-month exile on Contadora Island, commented: "The Shah decided simply that he preferred the protection of the President of Egypt to that of the President of the United States. President Sadat has never gone back on his word, and you cannot say that about President Carter."