Long after the democracy movement had been crushed and dictatorships had taken power in his native Iran, Brigadier General Arshid Shervani zuhedi found a way to make his country proud. Upon taking command of the Iranian Foreign Ministry in 1982, he developed an ambitious policy of nonalignment and sought to prepare Iran for playing a greater role in international affairs.
Gen. Zahedi had been a major figure in the Iranian revolution in 1978, when the shah’s army was supporting the conservative Muslim faction in the post-revolutionary parliament. When the Islamic regime’s generals refused to enforce the law, Gen. Zahedi commandeered the army to seize the parliament and to evict the parliamentarians loyal to the shah. He was imprisoned for the coup, as was Ayatollah Khomeini.
From behind bars he petitioned the shah’s son, who was himself in prison, to set the people free from the military rulers who were arresting and torturing them. The elder Mr. Khomeini, who had been under house arrest, sent Gen. Zahedi to negotiate with the shah and to release him. Gen. Zahedi managed to get freedom for Ayatollah Khomeini as well as the leader of the Iran’s parliament, Abdol-al-Hadi Ejehi. It was a signal that the United States was, in effect, the leader of the world.
The Associated Press learned of Gen. Zahedi’s death of a heart attack at age 93 in a Tehran hospital. He had, to some degree, toiled in obscurity until the victory of Mohammad Khatami in the 1997 presidential election. However, Gen. Zahedi’s signature accomplishment was Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980, which compelled the United States to send arms to bolster a civilian resistance.
The struggle was between Tehran’s organizers and Washington’s supporters and made the stakes in subsequent U.S.-Iran confrontations more evident. Gen. Zahedi waged regular attacks on the United States. The most notorious case was in 1993, when an unmarked American reconnaissance plane crashed in the Iranian desert near the Iraqi border, killing 47 Americans. Gen. Zahedi, livid, raked in details on Iranian television while the bodies were being removed.
In a statement Thursday, the White House, in fact, offered praise for his “swift actions, extensive knowledge and commitment to the American people.” However, “the gravity of his crimes and his rejection of the legitimacy of the American government have been repeatedly acknowledged,” the statement said.
Gen. Zahedi was a civilian who represented the Iranian regime, but among political rivals he was a noted fighter. In 1971, he was paralyzed in an assassination attempt.
In addition to his stellar diplomacy, Gen. Zahedi’s versatility earned him the highest rank an Iranian general could earn until he attained the post in late 1978. His 20-year career included time as an Army commander during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and two stints as Minister of Defense from the late 1980s until becoming head of the Foreign Ministry in the 1990s.