The Iran hostage crisis (Persian: تسخیر لانهٔ جاسوسی Teskhar lanh jasewsa, "Seizure of the Den of Spies") was a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981, after a group of Islamist students and militants took over the American Embassy in Tehran in support of the Iranian Revolution. President Carter called the hostages "victims of terrorism and anarchy", adding that the "United States will not yield to blackmail".
The episode reached a climax when, after failed attempts to negotiate a release, the United States military attempted a rescue operation off the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier. On April 24, 1980, Operation Eagle Claw resulted in a failed mission, the deaths of eight American servicemen, one Iranian civilian, and the destruction of two aircraft.
On July 27, 1980, the former Shah died. Then, in September, 1980, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded Iran. These two events led the Iranian government to enter into negotiations with the U.S., with Algeria acting as a mediator. The hostages were formally released into United States custody the day after the signing of the Algiers Accords, a deal brokered by Algeria between America and Iran, just minutes after the new American president Ronald Reagan was sworn into office.
The crisis has been described as an entanglement of "vengeance and mutual incomprehension". In Iran, the hostage taking was widely seen as a blow against the United States, and its influence in Iran, its perceived attempts to undermine the Iranian Revolution, and its longstanding support of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran, recently overthrown by the revolution. The Shah had been restored to power in a 1953 coup organized by the CIA at the American Embassy against a democratically elected nationalist Iranian government, led by the anti Soviet and anti British Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, and had recently been allowed into the United States for medical treatment. In the United States, the hostage-taking was seen as an outrage violating a centuries-old principle of international law granting diplomats immunity from arrest and diplomatic compounds' inviolability.
The crisis has also been described as the "pivotal episode" in the history of Iran–United States relations. In the United States, some political analysts believe the crisis was a major reason for U.S. President Jimmy Carter's defeat in the November 1980 presidential election. In Iran, the crisis strengthened the prestige of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the political power of those who supported theocracy and opposed any normalization of relations with the West. The crisis also marked the beginning of U.S. legal action, or economic sanctions against Iran, that further weakened economic ties between Iran and the United States.
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“The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather, from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things proclaim. It is seemingly instantaneous at last.”
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“During my administration the most unpleasant and perhaps most dramatic negotiations in which we participated were with the various leaders of Iran after the seizure of American hostages in November 1979. The Algerians were finally chosen as the only intermediaries who were considered trustworthy both by me and the Ayatollah Khomeini. After many aborted efforts, final success was achieved during my last few hours in the White House.”
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