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Iran hostage crisis

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

The embassy was seized by a mob of around 500 Iranian students, 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. 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 direct cause of the attack was the admission into the US of the exiled shah Pahlavi in October of that year, but it was indicative of a more general decline in relations between the two countries following the February 1979 revolution. The embassy had been briefly seized during the revolution.

The US President, Jimmy Carter, immediately applied economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran, oil imports from Iran were ended, Iranians in the US were expelled and around $8 billion of Iranian assets in the United States were frozen. Carter pledged himself to preserving the lives of the hostages but beyond the initial measures he could do little.

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 April 24-25, 1980, as the first part of the operation, a number of C-130 transporters 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 (July 27) 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.

After winning the election, before his inauguration, Reagan pushed hard for a resolution. Using the Algerian government as intermediaries successful negotiations were completed. 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.

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