Iran hostage crisis

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The Iran hostage crisis was the events following the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran, Iran on November 4 1979, a crisis that lasted over a year until January 20 1981.

Iran's new dictator, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini instigated the crisis when on November 1, 1979 he urged his people to demonstrate on November 4 and to expand attacks on United States and Israeli interests. The embassy was seized by a mob of around 500 Iranian students (although reported numbers vary from 300 to 2000), calling themselves the Imam's Disciples, part of a crowd of thousands gathered around the embassy in protest. The 90 occupants of the embassy were held and the 66 Americans were made prisoners. During the riot, six Americans escaped during the confusion and fled to the Canadian Embassy in Iran, under the hospitality of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. Mark Lijek, Cora Amburn Lijek, Joseph Stafford, Kathleen Stafford, Robert Anders and Henry Lee Schatz were then given fake Canadian passports so they were able to leave the Canadian Embassy, without being identified as Americans, after it had closed. Thirteen of the hostages were released on November 19 and 20 (the women and African-Americans amongst the group) but the remaining 52 continued to be held (one further hostage was released because of illness on July 11, 1980).

The students justified taking the hostages by claiming it was retaliation for the admission of Iran's deposed Shah, Pahlavi into the United States for cancer treatments back in October. However, in actuality the hostage-taking was less based around one specific event and was instead largely indicative of a more general decline in relations between the two countries following the February 1979 revolution. Khomeini was viciously anti-American in his rhetoric, denouncing the nation as the "Great Satan" and Americans as "infidels" and "enemies of Islam." The embassy had in fact been briefly seized once before during the revolution.

The US President, Jimmy Carter, immediately applied economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran: oil imports from Iran were ended November 12, 1979, Iranians in the US were expelled and around $8 billion of Iranian assets in the United States were frozen November 14, 1979. Carter pledged himself to preserving the lives of the hostages, but beyond the initial measures he could do little. Ruhollah Khomeini did, however, order the release of 13 female and black Americans on November 17, 1979.

In February 1980 the Iranian government issued a set of demands in return for freeing the hostages, they demanded the return of the shah to Iran and certain diplomatic gestures including an apology for prior American actions in Iran and a promise not to interfere in the future.

Rejecting the Iranian demands, Carter approved an ill-conceived secret rescue mission, Operation Eagle Claw. On the night of April 24-25, 1980, as the first part of the operation, a number of C-130 transport airplanes rendezvoused with nine RH-53 helicopters at an airstrip in the Great Salt Desert of South-Eastern Iran. Two helicopters broke down in a sandstorm and a third was damaged on landing. The mission was aborted but as the aircraft took off again one helicopter clipped a C-130 and crashed, killed eight US servicemen and injuring four or more. In the evacuation sufficient mission material was left behind for the Iranians to discover and later display to the world's media.

In the US administration Cyrus Vance resigned, having opposed the action.

In 1980, the death of the Shah on July 27th and the invasion of Iran by Iraq in September made the Iranians more receptive to resolving the hostage crisis.

In the United States, Carter lost the November 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan. The hostage crisis played some role in Carter's defeat.

The official history states that after winning the election, before his inauguration, Reagan pushed hard for a resolution. Using the Algerian government as intermediaries successful negotiations were completed. However ther eis strong evidence of what is termed the "Ootober Surprise" took place.

This is the name for the substantuve allegation that representatives of the Reagan presidential campaign made a deal at two sets of meetings in July and August at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid with Iranians to delay the release of Americans held hostage in Iran until after the November 1980 presidential elections, so that Reagan's opponent, then President Jimmy Carter, whose team had been negotiating, wouldn't gain a popularity boost (an 'October Surprise') before election day. The allegations included a date-specific allegation that William Casey met with an Iranian cleric in Madrid, Spain, and much of the tardy investigations centered on whether, at the weekend in question he was actually at Bohemian Grove retreat in California. Though William Casey was provably in London following the alleged meetings, critical pages of his daybook diary were unaccountably missing when the investigators came to look for them over a decade later.

Carter was at the time dealing with the Iran hostage crisis and the hostile regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Those who aver that a deal was made allege that certain Republicans with CIA connections, including George H. W. Bush, arranged to have the hostages held through October, until Reagan could defeat Carter in early November, and then be released. The hostages were in fact released on the very day of Reagan's inauguration, twenty minutes after his inaugral address. If the timing was a double-cross that was meant to tip off the American public to the game, it failed to elicit much commentary.

Two months earlier, in a campaigning interview Reagan had said that he had a "secret plan" involving the hostages. "My ideas require quiet diplomacy," he had responded when pressed, "where you don't have to say what it is you're thinking of doing."

A 1981 Congressional probe into the Reagan campaign's theft of White House briefing books on the eve of a presidential debate disclosed that Reagan campaign manager William Casey (later CIA chief), was receiving highly classified reports on closely held Carter administration intelligence on the Carter campaign and the Democratic president's efforts to liberate the hostages.

A Public Broadcasting System's 'Frontline' documentary in 1990 brought the story unavoidably to the surface in considerable detail. In 1991, while playing golf with George Bush in Palm Springs, Reagan gave reporters a sound bite. In 1980, he had "tried some things the other way," that is, to free the hostages, he told them. When pressed he said that the details remained "classified."

Separate House and Senate investigations were further delayed until 1992 however, by which time the trail was safely cold. William Casey, the alleged go-between, was dead by then, and it seemed impossible to account for all his moves during the summer of 1980, when he is said to have conferred with agents representing the Ayatollah Khomeini's government.

On the day of President Reagan's inauguration, in exchange for the unfreezing of Iranian assets, the hostages were freed after 444 days in captivity and were flown to Wiesbaden Air Force Base in West Germany. From there they took a second flight to Washington DC, where they received a hero's welcome.

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