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Iran Hostage Crisis

After a power struggle between Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran and his prime minister, the Shah gained the support of the United States in preventing the nationalization of Iran’s oil industry. In return the Shah received economic and military aid from the United States. With increased American policy influence, Shah Pahlavi moved towards economic and social reforms of the Iranian government. However, these reforms were criticized by the Iranian nationalists. Eventually after weeks of violent demonstrations towards the Shah, he fled Iran. Skeptically, President Carter agreed to let Shah Pahlavi into the United States for cancer treatment. To the Iranians; however, the United States was protecting the despised Shah; causing resentment towards the United States.

On November 4, 1979, five hundred Muslim students seized the United States Embassy in Iran. Of these ninety people in the embassy, sixty-six hostages were taken. Out of the original sixty-six hostages, fourteen were released early, and fifty-two were kept. President Carter immediately took action. He imposed a trade embargo against Iranian oil and put a freeze on Iranian assets in the United States. Furthermore, Iranian diplomats were expelled from the country and Iranian students were mandated to have their visas checked by the United States government. Although these measures affected the Iranian economy, the nonmilitary efforts had no effect on the hostage situation. Therefore, President Carter decided that it was time to make a rescue attempt to recover the American captives from Iran. On April 24-25, 1980, eight United States helicopters were sent to a remote staging area known as Desert One. Special Forces were brought in by transport planes; however, three of the eight helicopters broke down and were useless in the mission. Carter was forced to cancel the mission because of the lack of transport helicopter available. As the aircrafts were evacuating Desert One, two of the aircrafts collided, adding to the failure of the mission.

In response to the death of Shah Pahlavi and the invasions of Iran by Iraq, Iran agreed to settle the crisis. With the Algerian Government acting as an intermediary, a compromise was made between the two countries. In return for the release of the American hostages, the United States was required to return Shah Pahlavi’s wealth to Iran, unfreeze Iranian assets, cancel all public and private claims against Iran, and pledge to not interfere in Iranian affairs. With only two days left of his Presidential Term, Carter signed the deal with the Iranians. January 20, 1981, the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration and after four hundred and forty-four days of captivity, the hostages were released.

Research by Brittany O’Shea
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School


“Iran hostage crisis.” American Government. 2008. ABC-CLIO. 29 Apr. 2008

“The Hostage crisis in Iran.” The Colombia Encyclopedia. 2007. Colombia University Press. 13 May 2008

“Iran hostage crisis.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online School Edition. 13 May 2008

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