Iranian Hostage Crisis

Fabiola and Jennifer

Summary

On November 4, 1979, a group of Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking more than 60 American hostages. The immediate cause of this action was President Jimmy Carter’s decision to allow Iran’s deposed Shah, a pro-Western autocrat who had been expelled from his country some months before, to come to the United States for cancer treatment. However, the hostage-taking was about more than the Shah’s medical care: it was a dramatic way for the student revolutionaries to declare a break with Iran’s past and an end to American interference in its affairs. It was also a way to raise the intra- and international profile of the revolution’s leader, the anti-American cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The students set their hostages free on January 21, 1981, 444 days after the crisis began and just hours after President Ronald Reagan delivered his inaugural address. Many historians believe that hostage crisis cost Jimmy Carter a second term as president.
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Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi

Shah Mohammed Raza Pahlevi's authoritarian rule sparks demonstrations and riots. Martial law goes into effect.
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US humiliated

The students paraded the blindfolded hostages for the cameras to humiliate the "Great Satan" that Washington had become in the eyes of the Iranian revolutionary leaders.

They demanded the expulsion of the Shah of Iran from the US, where he had been taken for cancer treatment after his overthrow.

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Freedom

After months of negotiations, helped by Algerian intermediaries and the Shah's death, US diplomacy bore fruit.

On the day of President Ronald Reagan's inauguration, 20 January 1981, the hostages were set free. A day later they arrived at a US Air Force base in West Germany.

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Ticker tape parade

From Germany, the freed Americans were taken to Washington where they were given a hero's welcome along Pennsylvania Avenue before a reception hosted by Ronald Reagan at the White House.

The crisis may have helped bury the Carter administration's re-election hopes but it gave Mr Reagan a massive boost at the beginning of his presidency.

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October surprise

Newly inaugurated US President Ronald Reagan listens to Bruce Laingen, top diplomatic hostage during the Iran hostage crisis who was one of the three seized at the Iranian foreign ministry on 4 November 1979.

After the euphoria had subsided, awkward questions arose that have never been fully cleared up.

Critics still believe Mr Reagan's campaign team conspired to postpone the hostages' release until after the 1980 election to prevent it helping Mr Carter's returned to office.