December 3, 2021

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Ardeshir Zahedi, Irrepressible Iranian Diplomat, Dies at 93

Ardeshir Zahedi, Irrepressible Iranian Diplomat, Dies at 93

Ardeshir Zahedi, who as Iran’s ambassador to the USA hosted a few of Washington’s most lavish, star-studded events and derived his cachet partially from his closeness to the shah, died on Thursday in exile at his villa within the lakeside city of Montreux, close to Lausanne, Switzerland. He was 93.

Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic Information Company introduced the demise with out elaboration.

Mr. Zahedi had been hospitalized for 5 months with Covid, John Ghazvinian, a historian of U.S.-Iran relations on the College of Pennsylvania, stated in an interview. He stated he had obtained an e-mail from Mr. Zahedi eight months in the past through which Mr. Zahedi advised him about his Covid and stated that he had additionally fallen and damaged a leg and had a number of bouts of pneumonia.

Whereas serving twice as Iran’s ambassador to the USA, within the early Nineteen Sixties and thru many of the ’70s, the flamboyant Mr. Zahedi was greatest recognized for his extravagant entertaining in one among Washington’s most ostentatiously appointed embassies, a four-story, 46-room Georgian-style brick mansion with 14 fireplaces and terraced gardens.

“Mr. Zahedi’s events featured bands, recent orchids, 24-karat recreation prizes, caviar and Champagne, with company like Henry A. Kissinger, Andy Warhol and Elizabeth Taylor schmoozing within the embassy’s blue-tiled Persian Room,” The New York Instances reported in 1994. His broad orbit additionally embraced Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Senator Barry Goldwater.

The Washington File, a now defunct month-to-month society journal, known as him “one among Washington’s 10 good gents.” He was additionally one among its most eligible bachelors and an irrepressible bon vivant. On any given night time, he may be main a conga line by way of the hallways of his embassy. Or he may be out in town with Jacqueline Onassis, Liza Minnelli or Barbara Walters, although he was most frequently romantically linked with Ms. Taylor.

However behind his picture because the playboy of the Western world, as he was known as greater than as soon as, Mr. Zahedi was central in cementing the facility of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Mr. Zahedi, who was the shah’s son-in-law, was intently linked to influential businessmen and politicians, and he knew eight American presidents, from Truman to the senior Bush.

Throughout his ambassadorship within the Nineteen Seventies, his connections helped grease quite a few enterprise offers. Iran bought huge quantities of oil to the USA, bought billions of {dollars}’ value of American weaponry and know-how, and served as a platform from which the USA projected affect throughout the Center East. Mr. Zahedi helped convey the 2 international locations into such an intimate relationship that Mr. Kissinger, the secretary of state, got here to explain the shah as “that rarest of issues in worldwide relations, an unconditional ally.”

Many in Washington have been so charmed by Mr. Zahedi that they absolutely believed his assurances that the shah was safe in his energy. President Jimmy Carter was amongst these deceived. Mr. Carter visited Iran in late 1977 and praised the shah for creating “an island of stability” in a turbulent area.

Barely a 12 months later the shah’s regime collapsed, resulting in one of many largest disasters in American international coverage, when Iranian college students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held greater than 50 Individuals hostage for 444 days. The shah was pressured into exile, and the disaster helped upend the Carter presidency.

Whereas Mr. Zahedi was on the peak of his reputation in Washington, he too, as one of many shah’s closest allies, was pressured into exile. Over time he grew to become more and more outspoken in opposition to American warmongering and sanctions, and he derided the Trump administration’s threats against Iran as “a stress tactic wrapped in bellicosity folded inside a chimera.”

Mr. Zahedi’s nationalism endeared him to many. After his demise, Iranians of all political factions hailed him as an awesome man.

There have been even calls on social media for his physique to be returned to Iran for a state funeral, an unheard-of flip of occasions for one so outstanding within the shah’s inside circle. After the 1979 revolution, those that hadn’t fled have been executed.

Ardeshir Zahedi was born in Tehran on Oct. 16, 1928. His father, Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi, a charismatic officer within the Iranian Military, performed a decisive position within the consolidation of the shah’s energy and later grew to become prime minister.

After World Struggle II, Ardeshir got here to New York to check at Columbia College. However he discovered the courses too giant and his English too weak, and in 1946 he enrolled in Utah State College’s School of Agriculture. He obtained his bachelor’s diploma in agricultural engineering in 1950. When the shah visited Utah in 1949, the 2 met and commenced their enduring relationship.

After commencement, Mr. Zahedi returned to Iran and labored for an American support program that helped the nation develop its infrastructure. A 1953 coup backed by the C.I.A. and Britain and led by Normal Zahedi’s military strengthened the shah’s energy as a monarch and elevated the final to prime minister. Ardeshir Zahedi acted as a particular courier between them.

By 1955, the shah was anxious that the favored normal would possibly pose a menace to his personal place and pushed him out of workplace, sending him to function ambassador to the United Nations at its European headquarters in Geneva. Ardeshir opted to remain in Tehran and work with the shah, and in 1957 he married the shah’s daughter, Shahnaz.

The 2 had a daughter, Mahnaz Zahedi, who’s his solely rapid survivor.

Mr. Zahedi was named ambassador to the USA for the primary of his two tenures in Washington in 1960, however his time period was troubled from the beginning. Legal professional Normal Robert F. Kennedy despised the shah, in line with “Eminent Persians” (2008), a e-book by Abbas Milani, an Iranian scholar at Stanford College and a detailed pal of Mr. Zahedi’s. Kennedy, Dr. Milani wrote, even sheltered members of the Iranian scholar opposition. Mr. Zahedi urged the White Home to ship the scholars again to Iran since they weren’t attending faculty, however President John F. Kennedy refused. These tensions led the shah to recall Mr. Zahedi after simply two years.

The shah then appointed him ambassador to Britain, the place he served from 1962 to 1966. He opened up Iranian markets to British producers and entertained lavishly on the Iranian Embassy in London. The British thought of him “inexperienced, not a profound thinker and apt to be impetuous,” Dr. Milani wrote, however additionally they felt that he had single-handedly raised Iran’s standing on the planet.

Mr. Zahedi and his spouse divorced after seven years, however somewhat than falling out with the shah, Mr. Zahedi solely grew to become nearer to him and was appointed international minister in 1967. Throughout that interval, he drove a metallic blue Rolls-Royce and, believing that structure denotes energy, he persuaded the shah to put money into upgrading Iran’s embassies overseas.

Over time Mr. Zahedi, who could possibly be temperamental, erupted in so many outbursts and private clashes that he was pressured to resign as international minister in 1971. However he stayed loyal to the shah, and regardless of the shah’s misgivings, he reappointed him that 12 months as ambassador to Washington. There, Mr. Zahedi resumed his lavish events and his apply of showering his contacts with heavy tins of beluga caviar and high quality Persian rugs.

However on the identical time, he was locked in an more and more brutal battle with the rising ranks of Iranian college students who have been in the USA and opposed the shah.

Because the Islamic revolution swept by way of Tehran, the shah fled in 1979. (He died in 1980.) Mr. Zahedi quietly slipped out of city. In exile, he wrote his memoirs and arranged his and his father’s large assortment of papers, which he transferred in 2009 to the Hoover Institution at Stanford College.

The embassy, the place the Champagne as soon as flowed and footmen hovered behind every chair, was overtaken briefly by members of the Islamic Republic, who spent 4 hours pouring greater than 4,000 bottles of alcohol down a drain. The embassy remains to be closed.

“It’s ironic,” a former partygoer told The Times in 1980, “that for the best entertainer of all of them, there was no farewell get together.”

Stephen Kinzer contributed reporting.

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