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US diplomat thanks Algeria 40 years after release from detention in Iran

ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 25: (L-R) Former Iranian hostages Steven Kirtley, Don Hohman, Steven Lauterbach, John Limbert and Paul Needham sit together during the 25th anniversary remembrance ceremony to honor the eight U.S. servicemen who died during the 1980 attempt to free them April 25, 2005 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Eight Americans were killed April 25, 1980 in the failed attempt to rescue the 53 U.S. hostages who were being held by Iranian radicals at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Former Iranian hostages Steven Kirtley, Don Hohman, Steven Lauterbach, John Limbert and Paul Needham sit together during the 25th anniversary remembrance ceremony to honor the eight U.S. servicemen who died during the 1980 attempt to free them April 25, 2005 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia [Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the US embassy hostages in Iran, one of the freed diplomats Ambassador John Limbert has sent a letter to Algeria in which he thanked "the Algerian government and people for their kindness", and mediation efforts at the time, which helped release him after 444 days of detention in the embassy building.

"On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the liberation of US embassy hostages in Iran, I would like to thank the people and government of Algeria for their humanitarian and diplomatic efforts at that time," expressed Ambassador Limbert in a video clip posted on the Facebook page of the US embassy in Algeria.

He added: "As one of the hostages in Iran, I will never forget the service of our Algerian colleagues, including the late Ambassador Reza Malek in Washington and Ambassador Abdelkarim Gharib in Tehran; nor can I forget the Algerian doctors in Tehran and the Algerian Airlines flight crews who evacuated us from Iran, and the warm reception at 3 am on a cold January day at Houari Boumediene Airport."

Limbert continued: "Five years after these events, I had the honour of serving as the first secretary at the US embassy in Algeria. My family and I will never forget the kindness and hospitality of the Algerian people."

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He concluded his message by conveying: "Even 40 years after that fateful day, I still have a vivid memory of the kindness and professionalism of the Algerian friends. Personally, I will never forget your assistance and friendship. Accept my sincere wishes of prosperity to the proud people of this beautiful country."

Ambassador Limbert was appointed to the US embassy in Iran 12 weeks before the embassy was stormed in 1979 by Iranian protesters, leading to his detention along with 51 other US nationals, for 444 days. He was released on 20 January, 1981, thanks to Algeria's mediation.

Five years after the incident, the US diplomat returned to Algeria where he served in his country's embassy from 1986 to 1988 as first secretary, and was then appointed US ambassador to Mauritania from 2000 to 2003.

The agreement to free the US hostages was signed between Algiers and Washington on 19 January, 1981, after a group of student supporters of the Khomeini revolution held the US diplomats hostage, in response to receiving the shah of Iran to be treated in the US. The embassy staff were kept as captives inside the building after a US military operation failed to liberate them.

During that period, Algeria played the role of mediator between Iran and the US when the late Algerian Minister Mohamed Seddik Benyahia was foreign affairs minister. The US Secretary of State Warren Christopher had made several flights between Washington and Algeria, which resulted in signing an agreement by Christopher and Benyahia to free the hostages, in exchange for freezing sanctions against Iran.

READ: US calls on Iran to send a plane so it can deport 11 detainees

Christopher wrote a letter at the time to his Algerian counterpart Benyahia to express his deep gratitude and respect to the Algerian president, government and people after signing the agreement to liberate the US diplomats and their families. Christopher stated in his letter that the Algerian efforts: "Conveyed an inspiring commitment to human values ​​and presented to the world a unique example of the art of diplomacy."

Benyahia was killed in a plane crash on the Iraqi-Iranian border while he was on a diplomatic mission to mediate between the two countries. Former Algerian Defence Minister Khaled Nizar accused Saddam Hussein of bombing the plane carrying the head of the Algerian diplomacy.

In 2017, the US classified Villa Montfeld (the headquarters of the US embassy in Algeria) in the Register of Culturally Significant Property as a "property of cultural and historical value", as it hosted a secret meeting in 1979 between US and Iranian officials as part of negotiations brokered by Algeria. The State Department's register contains: "26 US-owned properties known for their cultural and historical value across the world."

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