NZ's role in Iran crisis tainted in Affleck's film 'Argo'
Wednesday 17 Oct 2012 12:42 p.m.
Ben Affleck (Photo: file/AAP)
By 3 News online staff
Movie star Ben Affleck’s latest role in a film about the Iranian hostage crisis paints an untrue picture of New Zealand history.
Argo, which opens next week in cinemas, documents the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis where six US embassy staff were smuggled out of Tehran disguised as a film crew.
New Zealand’s ambassador in Iran at the time, Chris Beeby, and second secretary Richard Sewell secretly helped the staff escape by providing food and entertainment as they sheltered at the Canadian embassy. They also provided a safe house.
However, the film depicts New Zealand as turning away the US diplomats, something which has troubled Affleck.
“I struggled with this long and hard because it casts Britain and New Zealand in a way that is not totally fair,” he told Time Out.
The film also says the British embassy turned away the US when in fact they were initially sheltered there before being moved to the Canadian embassy.
The hostage crisis began in November 1979 after a group of militants and students took over the US embassy, holding 52 Americans hostage for more than a year.
Failed negotiations and a failed rescue mission ensued the following year before a deal was reached in January 1981 and the hostages were released.
However, six US diplomats evaded the crisis and were smuggled out to the Canadian embassy, given Canadian passports and flown to Switzerland.
Mr Beeby and Mr Sewell played an important role in getting the diplomats to Switzerland.
Mr Sewell drove the group to the airport to catch the plane to get them out of Iran.
Mr Beeby also rented a property which could serve as a safe house if the US diplomats were discovered at the Canadian embassy.
The actions of the Kiwi diplomats are chronicled in a book by Robert Wright about the ordeal called Our Man In Tehran.
New Zealand’s role was kept quiet because Iran was the biggest market for lamb exports at the time.