Nation: Canada to the Rescue

A wave of thanks to a neighbor for saving six diplomats from Tehran

It had none of the lightning-flash finesse of Entebbe, none of the bloody ferocity of Mayaguez. Yet once again, however fleetingly, the frustration of dealing with the irrational acts of militants had been lifted by a single daring and dramatic deed. The cunning maneuver executed by Canadian diplomats in secreting six Americans in hostile Tehran for almost three months and then spiriting them to safety last week provided a heartening interlude in Washington's still unsuccessful struggle to free 50 hostages from their captors in chaotic Iran.

With a spontaneous gush of gratitude, Americans extended congratulatory hands across the border. It was as though the U.S. were almost surprised to find that it had a friend after all. Where other allies had nervously shunned sanctions and offered only rhetoric against Iran, Canada had literally come to the rescue. In Detroit, billboards facing Canada suddenly sprouted Canadian maple leaves and appreciative messages like THANK YOU, CANADA. The Canadian embassy switchboard in Washington was overwhelmed by Americans wishing to convey warm sentiments: "Brilliant move." "Courageous feat." "Well done." In Fergus Falls, Minn., Radio Station KBRF got an enthusiastic response to its suggestion that listeners send I LOVE YOU valentine messages to Flora MacDonald, Canada's Secretary of State for External Affairs, who, as her nation's top diplomat, had proudly confirmed the rescue story.

On an official level, the U.S. Congress unanimously rushed through a resolution —the first ever of its kind—expressing "its deep appreciation and thanks to the Government of Canada." As reporters watched, Jimmy Carter picked up a telephone in his Oval Office and told Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark of the American people's appreciation for "a tremendous exhibition of friendship and support and personal and political courage." The rescue had already given Clark a big boost in his uphill drive to retain his office in the Canadian elections, Feb. 18.

Back in the U.S., the happy but professionally restrained diplomats appeared one by one before a televised press conference at the State Department. In an oddly stiff ceremony, each gave name and title: Mark Lijek, 28, a consular officer; his wife Cora, 26, a consular secretary (both from Falls Church, Va.); Joseph D. Stafford, 29, a consular officer; his wife Kathleen, 28, a consular secretary (both from Crossville, Tenn.); Robert Anders, 54, a consulate officer (from Port Charlotte, Fla.); and Henry Lee Schatz, 31, an agricultural attache (from Post Falls, Idaho). Anders read a carefully prepared statement thanking reporters for keeping their sensitive secret for so long but saying of their colleagues still held captive: "We must not and will not forget them." Then the six paid a solemn, low-key visit to the White House, where the President termed them "six brave Americans" and declared, "We all love you."

The escapees had been warned by the State Department not to disclose details about how they had been hidden and how they had escaped. This was to protect any foreigners, as well as Iranians, who had been helpful but still remained in Iran.

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