NZ diplomats 'heroic' - Argo escapee

Last updated 11:58 14/03/2013
Lee Schatz
Getty Images
FORMER HOSTAGE: Lee Schatz who was portrayed by Rory Cochrane in Oscar-winning movie Argo,

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One of the former American diplomats portrayed in the Oscar-winning film, Argo, has set the record straight about the involvement of New Zealand diplomats.

Contrary to the film's version, our diplomats did visit the six embassy workers who escaped after Islamists took over the United States embassy in Tehran and took their 52 colleagues hostage in 1979.

The Kiwis even brought the escapers beer, Lee Schatz, who was portrayed by Rory Cochrane, told Bloomberg.

Hollywood actor Ben Affleck directs and stars in the film, which tells the story of the escape of the six diplomats from Iran.

New Zealand, British and Canadian diplomats helped with the successful plan to smuggle them out of hiding in the Canadian embassy. In the film their role was downplayed and the efforts of the CIA were exaggerated.

Schatz said, New Zealand diplomats Chris Beeby and Richard Sewell met the embassy workers "a number of times" while they sheltered in a Canadian official's house during and helped raise their spirits. He fondly remembered that Beeby brought them beer at Christmas.

"I have fond memories of those two gentlemen. If they were still alive I would have called them up and said, 'Hey, this [the film] sucks'."

"Everyone who touched us in those weeks and months put themselves in danger," Schatz said.

"It was diplomats in a modern time doing some really, really, heroic things - and I don't use that term easily."

On Tuesday, Parliament passed a motion criticising the movie for inaccuracies in its story.

NZ First leader Winston Peters urged Parliament to push to "correct a grave misrepresentation of the courageous and commendable role of New Zealand diplomats in the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis in the movie, Argo".

The film suggested that New Zealand turned the escapers away.

"In reality, our courageous New Zealand diplomats' inspirational actions were of significant help to the American hostages and deserve the factual and historic record to be correct," Peters said.

Affleck told the British Telegraph newspaper he struggled with the depiction of New Zealand and British diplomats, but said he depicted events the best he could.

"But I was setting up a situation where you needed to get a sense that these six people had nowhere else to go. It does not mean to diminish anyone."

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He also said after winning the Oscar for Best Film last month, that he loved New Zealand and New Zealanders.

- Stuff

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