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  • Writer's pictureJonathan E. Pearl

Great Mediators in History: Terry Waite CBE

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

· Born 31 May 1939)

· English humanitarian and author

· Assistant for Anglican Communion Affairs for the Archbishop of Canterbury

· Mediated in Lebanon to try to secure the release of four hostages, including the journalist John McCarthy

· Kidnapped and held captive himself from 1987 to 1991.

Waite joined the Grenadier Guards as a young man, but an allergy to a dye in the uniform forced him to depart after a few months. He then considered monastic life, but instead joined the Church Army, a social welfare organisation of the Anglican Church modelled on the Salvation Army. Waite then spent the 1970s travelling the world for the Church Army.

In 1980, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie appointed Waite his Assistant for Anglican Communion Affairs and was asked to go to Iran, where he successfully negotiated the release of several hostages who were clerics or missionaries. In November 1984, Waite successfully negotiated with Colonel Gaddafi for the release of the four remaining British hostages held in the Libyan Hostage crisis: Michael Berdinner, Alan Russell, Malcolm Anderson and Robin Plummer.

From 1985, Waite became involved in hostage negotiation in Lebanon, and assisted in negotiations which secured the release of 2 hostages. His use of an American helicopter to travel secretly between Cyprus and Lebanon and his appearance with Lt Colonel Oliver North, however, meant however that he was compromised when the Irangate scandal broke. Against all advice, Waite felt the need to demonstrate his continuing trust and integrity, and his commitment to the remaining hostages. He arrived in Beirut in January 1987 with the intention of negotiating with Islamic Jihad, which was holding the men. He agreed to meet the captors of the hostages as he was promised safe conduct. The group however broke trust and took Waite hostage himself. Waite remained in captivity for 1,763 days, the first four years of which were spent in solitary confinement. Waite was finally released on 18 November 1991.

Waite has said of his experience as a mediator and hostage negotiator:

“I tried to do as much background work as I could, but….I was learning as I went along. In the case of Iran, a country I had never been to before, I consulted a lot of people on Iran’s perceived political aims, but I depended more on getting on the ground, listening to people and picking up what they were saying to me. I tried not to go in over-prejudiced one way or the other, keeping an open mind and listening to what was said to me.”

In a sense I was working highly intuitively rather than according to a set formula. I have to say I did have a pattern of working – which was extremely risky and one that I wouldn’t recommend for every situation at all – and that was seeking a face-to-face meeting, which is obviously very dangerous in these situations.”

Waite did much of his mediation and negotiation with Islamic Jihad literally blind-folded, as they feared being recognised.


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