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Thatcher tried to free U.S. hostages

Newly released papers show her efforts to exert wide influence.

LONDON - British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made a previously unknown effort to secure the release of American hostages in Iran and predicted that Ronald Reagan would confound expectations after his election, newly disclosed files revealed Thursday.

The documents from 1980, made public under Britain's 30-year disclosure rule, also recount Thatcher's clashes with her central bank governor, diplomats, and royal officials, burnishing her reputation as a combative leader.

Thatcher, who served as prime minister from 1979 to 1990 and was nicknamed the Iron Lady, is recorded as attempting to exert her influence over a wide range of events.

The files recall how Thatcher, now 85, dismissed advice from Britain's ambassador in Washington, Nicholas Henderson, when he raised questions about Reagan's likely abilities as president in dispatches to London during the 1980 U.S. election campaign. Reagan had previously unsuccessfully run to be the Republican candidate in 1976.

"The main worry about him . . . is not just age but whether he possesses the mental vitality and political vision necessary to cope with the acute and changing problems, national and international, of governing this vast, and in some ways ungovernable, country," Henderson wrote in a cable.

Thatcher, who went on to form a close political alliance with Reagan, spurned the warning and predicted that he would play a pivotal role in world events.

"She thought Mr. Reagan would prove himself to be a man of peace. He would give a strong lead," one file quoted a diplomat as saying.

Another note newly released to Britain's National Archives reveals that Thatcher opposed Prince Charles' visiting French military sites during a royal tour because France was not at the time a full member of NATO.

Other files recount Thatcher's angry exchanges with Gordon Richardson, then the governor of the Bank of England, whom she accused of undermining her economic strategy and effectively sidelined by appointing her own personal adviser.

However, the files also show the limits of Thatcher's attempts to impose herself on the world stage - disclosing how her efforts to free U.S. hostages in Iran and to dissuade athletes from attending the 1980 Moscow Olympics were largely unsuccessful.

During the 1980 Iranian Embassy crisis in London, when a rescue mission by British special forces ended a siege by Arab separatists who had seized the building and captured 26 hostages, Thatcher attempted to intervene in the case of Americans being held captive in Tehran.

Thatcher wrote to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini urging him to release those being held at the U.S. Embassy in Iran as an act of gratitude to the British troops who had carried out the operation to free Iranian diplomats.

"I ask this in the hope that the comradeship sealed in blood in the last few days between our two countries will grow and strengthen in the years to come on the basis of equality, mutual respect and friendship," Thatcher wrote in the secret message.

Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for 444 days after Islamic militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979. The hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981.