Peter Tarnoff, a seasoned diplomat whose work behind the scenes for presidents Jimmy Carter and Invoice Clinton included establishing a secret channel to Fidel Castro and serving to organize the escape of six U.S. Embassy officers from Iran, an escapade later depicted within the 2012 film “Argo,” died on Nov. 1 at his residence in San Francisco. He was 86.
His spouse, Mathea Falco, mentioned the reason for dying was issues of Parkinson’s illness.
Mr. Tarnoff was a part of a cohort of Overseas Service officers who, impressed by the phrases of President John F. Kennedy, joined the American diplomatic corps within the early Nineteen Sixties.
Lots of them lower their enamel on project in South Vietnam, and several other — amongst them Mr. Tarnoff, Anthony Lake, Frank Wisner II and Richard Holbrooke — went on to play main roles within the U.S. overseas coverage institution.
However whereas outsize personalities like Mr. Holbrooke, a frequent contender for secretary of state, and Mr. Lake, a nationwide safety adviser below Invoice Clinton, grew to become well-known, Mr. Tarnoff most popular to wield his affect out of the general public eye.
“Peter was actually the quintessential diplomat within the sense that he by no means requested for the highlight,” Wendy Sherman, who served alongside him within the Clinton administration, mentioned in a cellphone interview. “He by no means wanted to be the named individual. He simply bought the job achieved.”
From early on in his profession he developed a repute because the consummate confidential assistant, guiding high-profile diplomats by means of high-profile negotiations.
In South Vietnam he grew to become a detailed adviser to Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, a job he continued in 1969 when Mr. Lodge led the U.S. delegation to the Paris peace talks to finish the Vietnam Battle.
Mr. Tarnoff carried out the same service practically a decade later because the particular assistant to Cyrus Vance, the secretary of state below Jimmy Carter, and Edmund Muskie, Mr. Vance’s successor.
In that function he each protected his principals from bureaucratic infighting — Mr. Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the nationwide safety adviser, had been locked in open warfare for a lot of the Carter administration — and carried out assignments too delicate to run by means of typical channels.
He established a secret relationship with Ricardo Alarcón, a high Cuban diplomat primarily based in New York. Over cigars on the Plaza Lodge, and later in a secret assembly in Havana with Fidel Castro, they hashed out a deal to finish the exodus of hundreds of asylum seekers to Florida, generally known as the Mariel boatlift.
He performed an much more confidential half throughout the 1979 Iran hostage disaster, when revolutionaries detained a lot of the personnel on the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Six had escaped to the Canadian Embassy, and Mr. Tarnoff served because the liaison between the Canadian authorities and the Central Intelligence Company, which had a plan to extract them.
Posing as a Canadian movie crew scouting places for a science fiction movie referred to as “Argo,” the six employees members, joined by two C.I.A. operatives, managed to get by means of Iranian passport management and onto a flight to Zurich.
Mr. Tarnoff by no means confirmed his function in what got here to be generally known as the Canadian Caper, nor did he see the Oscar-winning movie made about it. However State Division paperwork present that he performed an integral half.
He spent a lot of the Eighties within the non-public sector, together with a stint as president of the Council on Overseas Relations, the American suppose tank specializing in U.S. overseas coverage and worldwide relations based in 1921. However he returned to the State Division in 1993 because the deputy secretary for political affairs, primarily the No. 3 spot.
A couple of months into the job, he set off a minor scandal when, talking anonymously to a bunch of journalists, he mentioned that the US would possibly want to drag again its commitments abroad within the face of finances deficits and the top of the Chilly Battle.
The New York Occasions, which didn’t have a reporter within the room, quickly unmasked Mr. Tarnoff, and for a second it regarded as if he would possibly lose his job.
However Mr. Tarnoff was too beneficial to lose. He reprised his function as secret go-between to the Cuban authorities, and once more labored with Mr. Alarcón, this time on a deal to finish the US’s open door coverage to Cuban asylum seekers.
“Peter at all times had this fabulous knack of understanding what a principal wanted, and how you can handle and put collectively concepts for options to issues and run interference, and to take action with incomplete discretion,” Mr. Wisner, who served as below secretary of protection for coverage below President Clinton, mentioned in a cellphone interview.
Peter Tarnoff was born on April 19, 1937, in Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn till he was 12, when his household moved to Montreal. His father, Norman, was an govt at Macy’s, and his mom, Henrietta (Goldfarb) Tarnoff, was a homemaker.
He graduated from Colgate in 1958 with a level in philosophy, a topic he continued to pursue on the Committee on Social Thought, a doctoral program on the College of Chicago. However his curiosity in international affairs pulled him away from academia, and he joined the Overseas Service in 1962.
Mr. Tarnoff’s first marriage, to Danielle Oudinot, resulted in divorce. He married Ms. Falco in 1982. Alongside together with her, he’s survived by a son from his first marriage, Alexander Tarnoff; a son from his second, Benjamin Tarnoff; his half brother, John Tarnoff; and three grandchildren. One other son with Ms. Oudinot, Nicholas Tarnoff, died in 1991.
After an preliminary posting to Lagos, Nigeria, he moved to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh Metropolis), the capital of South Vietnam. In 1965 he was critically wounded by flying glass when a automotive bomb detonated beside the U.S. Embassy, killing two inside and 20 on the road.
In the course of the Seventies he held a wide range of posts round Europe earlier than transferring to Washington in 1975.
After Ronald Reagan defeated Mr. Carter within the 1980 presidential election, custom dictated that the incoming administration would deal with Mr. Tarnoff, who was each a nonpolitical Overseas Service officer and a confidante of one of many earlier administration’s main Cupboard members.
However in a stunning breach, Alexander Haig, the brand new secretary of state, pushed Mr. Tarnoff apart, ostensibly as a result of his work in Cuba had left him politically tainted. He took a yearlong fellowship on the Hoover Establishment at Stanford, then resigned from the Overseas Service in 1982.
He served as president of the World Affairs Council of Northern California, primarily based in San Francisco, for 3 years, then assumed the management of the Council on Overseas Affairs from 1985 to 1993, when he joined the State Division on the behest of his fellow Californian, Warren Christopher, who had simply been named secretary of state.
Mr. Tarnoff left the State Division in 1997 and returned to San Francisco. Not lengthy earlier than leaving, he acquired the Distinguished Service Award, the division’s highest honor.