In 2016, with his health deteriorating, he had sought to undergo surgery in the United States, but after being denied a visa, settled for an operation and treatment in Turkey.
Decades before the revolution, Yazdi had been a supporter of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, who was ousted during a coup orchestrated by the United States in 1953. He later studied in the United States and formed part of the Freedom Movement of Iran opposed to the Shah. In 1965, Yazdi became the leader of the Special Organization for Alliance and Action and established guerrilla training bases in Egypt and Lebanon.
Yazdi was one of the figures closest to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, having joined him when the ayatollah went into exile in Neauphle-le-Chateau, France. The shah had banished Khomeini to Iraq, which subsequently asked him to leave the country. After the revolution, Yazdi was appointed deputy prime minister, under Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, and was then named foreign minister.
In the wake of the Iranian students’ 1979 attack on the US Embassy, which led to the 444-day diplomatic standoff between Tehran and Washington, the interim government, which opposed the action, resigned. The embassy was actually attacked two times, but the first attempt, early in the year, by the Marxist-Leninist Organization of Iranian People’s Fedai Guerrillas, was aborted after Khomeini received word of the action and opposed it. According to the Mehr News Agency, Yazdi managed to persuade the group to leave the embassy building before exiting the compound entirely.
Khomeini also initially objected to the second attack. In a 2016 interview with the newspaper Ghanoon, Yazdi said that when he informed Khomeini of the unfolding incident, the ayatollah told him, “Go and lead them out.” Yazdi noted Khomeini’s change of heart, saying, “Thirty-six hours or 48 hours later, he backed this action and described it as a greater revolution than the first revolution. After that, the interim government resigned. Yazdi believed that one of the drivers behind the embassy takeover had been an attempt by the hard-liners to overthrow the interim government, which they considered to be too moderate.
Yazdi ran in the first parliamentary elections after the revolution, in 1980, and won a seat, but he failed in other electoral efforts, being disqualified by the Guardian Council, which vets candidates. Of note, in Iran’s most recent presidential elections, in 2013 and 2017, Yazdi cast his ballot for the moderate Hassan Rouhani.
Yazdi’s role in the revolution and his status as leader of the Freedom Movement of Iran since 1995 put his death on the front pages of many Iranian newspapers and led politicians to issue messages of condolence.
President Rouhani said, “In the dark days of foreign colonialism and oppressive tyranny … Dr. Yazdi was one of the pioneers of the fight [against the shah] in academic circles.” He also tweeted, “Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, who was alongside the Imam [Khomeini] in Neauphle-le-Chateau and later years, will be part of the history of the country.”
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Mohammad Reza Aref, leader of the Reformist faction in the parliament, and former envoy to France Sadegh Kharrazi were also among the prominent figures who expressed public condolences.
Reformist, moderate and hard-line newspapers all covered Yazdi’s death, with the exception of the hard-line dailies Kayhan and Vatan-e Emrooz. The Reformist Shargh’s headline read, “The Death of the Guerrilla Who Was Inclined to Dialogue,” while the state-run Iran newspaper decided on “Farewell to the Reputable Politician.” The Reformist Shahrvandchose as a headline “The Death of the Moderate Nationalist,” and the Reformist Bahar ran “Good-bye to the Patient Partner of Freedom.”