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Peter Tarnoff, Diplomat Who Helped Plot the ‘Argo’ Escape from Iran, Dies at 86

Peter Tarnoff, a seasoned diplomat whose behind-the-scenes work for presidents Jimmy Carter and Invoice Clinton included establishing a secret path to Fidel Castro and serving to arrange the escape of six US Embassy officers from Iran, an escapade later depicted within the 2012 film “Argo,” died on Nov. 1 at his residence in San Francisco. He was 86 years outdated.

His spouse, Mathea Falco, mentioned the reason for dying was problems from Parkinson’s illness.

Mr. Tarnoff was a part of a bunch of Overseas Service officers who, impressed by the phrases of President John F. Kennedy, joined the American diplomatic corps within the early Sixties.

A lot of them reduce their enamel on task in South Vietnam, and plenty of – together with Mr. Tarnoff, Anthony Lake, Frank Wisner II and Richard Holbrooke – continued to play main roles within the US international coverage institution.

However whereas outsize personalities like Mr. Holbrooke, a frequent contender for secretary of state, and Mr. Lake, a nationwide safety adviser beneath Invoice Clinton, turned well-known, Mr. Tarnoff selected to make use of his affect out of the general public eye.

“Peter was actually the quintessential diplomat within the sense that he by no means requested for the highlight,” Wendy Sherman, who served with him within the Clinton administration, mentioned in a phone interview. “He would not should be the named particular person. He simply completed the job.”

From early in his profession he developed a status as a completely confidential aide, guiding high-profile diplomats by high-profile negotiations.

In South Vietnam he turned an in depth adviser to Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the US ambassador in Saigon, a job he continued in 1969 when Mr. Lodge led the US delegation to the Paris peace talks to finish the Vietnam Conflict.

Mr. Tarnoff did comparable service practically a decade in the past as particular assistant to Cyrus Vance, the secretary of state beneath Jimmy Carter, and Edmund Muskie, Mr. Vance’s successor.

In that position he each protected his principals from bureaucratic infighting – Mr. Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the nationwide safety adviser, have been locked in open warfare for many of the Carter administration – and carried out duties too delicate to run by standard channels.

He established a secret relationship with Ricardo Alarcón, a high Cuban diplomat primarily based in New York. Over cigars on the Plaza Lodge, and later in a secret assembly in Havana with Fidel Castro, they brokered an settlement to finish the exodus of hundreds of asylum seekers to Florida, often known as Mariel boat raise.

He performed a extra confidential position through the 1979 Iran hostage disaster, when revolutionaries held many of the personnel of the US Embassy in Tehran hostage. Six escaped to the Canadian Embassy, ​​and Mr. Tarnoff acts as a liaison between the Canadian authorities and the Central Intelligence Company, which has a plan to take them out.

Posing as a Canadian movie crew scouting places for a science fiction movie referred to as “Argo,” the six personnel, accompanied by two CIA operatives, managed to -through Iranian passport management and a flight to Zurich.

Mr. Tarnoff by no means confirmed his position within the so-called Canadian Caper, nor did he see the Oscar-winning movie made about it. However State Division paperwork present he performed a key position.

He spent many of the Nineteen Eighties within the non-public sector, together with a stint as president of the Council on Overseas Relations, the American suppose tank specializing in US international coverage and worldwide relations based in 1921. However he returned to the State Division. in 1993 because the deputy secretary for political affairs, which is No. 3 spots.

A couple of months into the job, he began a minor scandal when, talking anonymously to a bunch of journalists, he mentioned that the USA may need to withdraw its commitments overseas earlier than of price range deficits and the top of the Chilly Conflict. .

The New York Instances, with no reporter within the room, quickly unmasked Mr. Tarnoff, and for some time it seemed like he may lose his job.

However Mr. Tarnoff is just too helpful to lose. He resumed his position as a secret go-between within the Cuban authorities, and once more labored with Mr. Alarcón, this time on an settlement to finish the open door coverage of the USA to Cuban asylum seekers.

“Peter has all the time had this distinctive capability to know what a principal wants, and find out how to handle and combine concepts for options to issues and run interference, and do it flawlessly. discretion,” mentioned Mr. Wisner, who served as beneath secretary of protection. for coverage beneath President Clinton, mentioned in a phone interview.

Peter Tarnoff was born on April 19, 1937, in Manhattan and grew up in Brooklyn till he was 12, when his household moved to Montreal. His father, Norman, was an govt at Macy’s, and his mom, Henrietta (Goldfarb) Tarnoff, was a homemaker.

He graduated from Colgate in 1958 with a level in philosophy, a topic he pursued on the Committee on Social Thought, a doctoral program on the College of Chicago. However his curiosity in world affairs drew him away from academia, and he joined the Overseas Service in 1962.

The primary marriage of Mr. Tarnoff, to Danielle Oudinot, led to divorce. He married Ms. Falco in 1982. Together with him, she is survived by a son from her first marriage, Alexander Tarnoff; a son from his second, Benjamin Tarnoff; his half-brother, John Tarnoff; and three grandchildren. One other son with Ms. Oudinot, Nicholas Tarnoff, died in 1991.

After the primary posting in Lagos, Nigeria, he moved to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh Metropolis), the capital of South Vietnam. In 1965 he was significantly injured by flying glass when a automobile bomb exploded subsequent to the US Embassy, ​​killing two inside and 20 on the road.

In the course of the Seventies he held numerous posts round Europe earlier than shifting to Washington in 1975.

After Ronald Reagan defeated Mr. Carter within the 1980 presidential election, custom dictates that the incoming administration will handle Mr. Tarnoff, who was a nonpolitical Overseas Service officer and a confidant of one of many high Cupboard members of the earlier administration.

However in a stunning breach, Alexander Haig, the brand new secretary of state, pushed Mr. Tarnoff, as a result of his work in Cuba left him politically tainted. He took a one-year fellowship on the Hoover Establishment at Stanford, then resigned from the Overseas Service in 1982.

He served as president of the World Affairs Council of Northern California, primarily based in San Francisco, for 3 years, then assumed management of the Council on Overseas Affairs from 1985 to 1993, when he joined the State Division. on the behest of his fellow Californian. , Warren Christopher, who was not too long ago named secretary of state.

Mr. Tarnoff left the State Division in 1997 and returned to San Francisco. Shortly earlier than leaving, he obtained the Distinguished Service Award, the division’s highest honor.


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