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The relationship between the United States and Iran got worse and worse leading up to the crisis. In 1908, Iran discovered oil, which attracted interest from the West (American Experience). Things started to change in Iran when the United States became the dominant power (The Iranian). The United States tried staying out of Iran's issues with other countries and remained neutral. The United States was still recovering from the post- Vietnam War and wanted Iran to be independent under the power of Reza Shah Pahlavi because they were allies for quite a while (Farber). The Shah had secret police, the Savak, who were known for human right abuse (Farber). The U.S. President at the time, Carter, tried doing something about it but the Shah claimed, "No, there is nothing I can do. I must enforce the Iranian laws." (Farber)
At this point relations between Iran and the United States were for the most part stable. Iran was pumping out oil from the ground that was supplied to the U.S. while the U.S. provided Iran with military equipment. Fear then began to take a toll on events. In 1953, the CIA administered an operation to bring the Shah back to power because they feared the Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh didn't have their best intentions in mind (American Experience). Not long after, Iranian revolutionaries were becoming suspicious of U.S. intentions (The Iranian). Opposition against western influence in Iran began to arise. Carter's national security adviser, Zbignew Brzezinski, wanted Carter to take a stance against the violent Iranian revolutionaries by using military force (Tristam). However, Carter refused to do so, staying committed to human rights. Carter's secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, also tried to get Carter to stop backing the shah, but once again he refused (Tristam). The Shah sent the leader of the Islamic clergy, Ruhollah Khomeini, away to Iraq for causing opposition in Iran (American Experience). This was the start of Iran's Islamic revolution.
On New Year's Eve 1977, the shah and Carter toasted over a dinner in Tehran, and Carter tried ignoring the reality that the shah was in major trouble (American Experience). Resentment and protests against the government continued on attacking the shah's regime as being "anti-Islamic" (American Experience). In November 1978, the Shah gave a speech stating, "Commit myself to make up for past mistakes, to fight corruption and injustices and to form a national government to carry out free elections." (Tristam) On January 16, 1979 opposition against the Shah grew to be so bad that he had no choice but to flee to Egypt (American Experience). About two weeks later, many rejoiced when Khomeini returned to Iran after fourteen years in exile (American Experience). He flew from Paris to Tehran. Carter sent a fleet of F-16s to Saudi Arabia to show American "force and will", but only ended up humiliating himself because word got out that they were unarmed (Tristam). Soon after Khomeini came back into reign, he took over the American embassy for about two hours before revolutionary guards stepped in against the attackers (Tristam).
Carter suffered consequences for not taking the proper actions previously, but what he did next was a fatal mistake. It became known that the Shah developed and was suffering from cancer. However, Carter did not want to admit him into the U.S., fearing it would endanger the Americans that were still in Iran (American Experience). However, the severity of his illness was getting worse so Carter took a vote. "He went around the room, and most of us said, 'Let him in.'" recalls Vice President Walter Mondale. "And he said, 'And if [the Iranians] take our employees in our embassy hostage, then what would be your advice?' And the room just fell dead. No one had an answer to that. Turns out, we never did." (American Experience) David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger insisted the shah receive treatment. (Tristam) However, they only had their own interests in mind for Rockefeller lent the shah millions of dollars while he was in power from his bank and thought he would get his money back by admitting the shah (Tristam). With final convincing from Vance, the shah entered the United States October 22, 1979 where he was treated at a New York hospital (The Iranian).
"President Carter's fateful decision served three different symbolic functions at the time: (1 ) to soothe the guilt feelings of having let down an ally; (2) to placate those who were posing a question on "who lost Iran''; and, (3) to project an image of president who is sensitive to human rights while tough on issues of national interest." (The Iranian) Sure enough, Carter faced the consequences to the decision he chose to make. On November 4, 1979, the American Embassy in Tehran was seized by about 500 students and of the ninety inside about fifty-two of them was captured throughout the entire crisis (infoplease.com). At first the students were unknown as far as who they were and what their intentions were. They eventually revealed themselves as the "Imam's (Khomeini) Disciples." (The Iranian) The students refused to let the Americans go until the Shah was brought back for trial and the billions of dollars that were stolen were returned (American Experience). The media played an important role in arising frustration in the situation. The students paraded the hostages around in blindfolds to try and get the U.S. to meet their demands. (BBC News) In seizing the Embassy, there was evidence found to prove that certain U.S. diplomats were spying, and the Iranians used that information as a threat. (The Iranian)
As a result of the hostage crisis, Carter had to do something in order to get the Iranians to release the Americans. President Carter felt specifically responsible in the safe return of the hostages (American Experience). Two of the first actions he took were banning oil imports from Iran and freezing Iranian assets in the United States on November 11, 1979 since at this point any military action would be too risky (infoplease.com). Then on the 17th, Khomeini decided to release some of the hostages that consisted of females, African Americans, and non-U.S.-citizens due to the fact that women and minorities already suffered "the oppression of American society." (American Experience) However, two women, Elizabeth Ann Swift and Kathryn Koob, and one African American, Charles Jones, still remained as hostages (American Experience). Americans supported Carter and his priority to get the hostages released (American Experience). Carter tried multiple incentives to convince the Iranians to release the hostages, but all of them seemed to fail in some way or another. He was so hesitant on taking certain actions in fear of what the Iranians would do to the hostages. As time went on, the Iranians showed no signs of release anytime soon so Carter decided something had to be done. (American Experience) For months, Carter had been working on a plan called "Desert One" and on April 11, 1980 he decided to put it to use even though the odds were against them. (American Experience) Unfortunately, Carter had to call off the mission due to three of the eight helicopters being faulty. (American Experience) Then, another hit a C-130 transport plane in a sandstorm, killing eight service men and injuring three. (American Experience) Cyrus Vance was against the operation and after it failed, he resigned from Secretary of State. (The Iranian) When the Iranians heard the news they basically laughed right in the Americans faces and made sure to make the media aware as well.
Summer came and the only progress made was the release of one more hostage. Richard Queen was released when he developed multiple sclerosis. (American Experience) Many Americans felt Carter was not a strong enough stance against the Iranians. Biographer Peter Bourne put it, "Because people felt that Carter had not been tough enough in foreign policy, this kind of symbolized for them that some bunch of students could seize American diplomatic officials and hold them prisoner and thumb their nose at the United States." (American Experience) In 1980, the shah died in Egypt along with the invasion of Iran by Iraq. (infoplease.com) There were rumors that Carter had an "October Surprise" to release the hostages before the election, but time went on and the hostage status did not change. (American Experience) Due to the fact that the crisis still was not resolved, Ronald Reagan ended up defeating Carter in the presidential election in the U.S. (infoplease.com) Minutes after Reagan was inaugurated, the Iranians freed the hostages that were held captive for four hundred forty four days. (infoplease.com) On January 20, 1981, this occurred because the U.S. released around eight million dollars in Iranian assets. (infoplease.com) The following day Carter went to Germany to meet the freed hostages, which was an emotional moment for him for several reasons. He put his heart and soul into trying to rescue the hostages, but unfortunately his efforts just were not enough and a majority of the reason why he was defeated in the election against Reagan. (American Experience) Jordan Hamilton stated that Carter "looked as old and tired as I had ever seen him." (American Experience)
Along with Vietnam and the Watergate, the hostage crisis was yet another sign to show the country weakening. (The Iranian) The crisis definitely changed the country's idea from staying out of war and foreign affairs to becoming militarily prepared from now on. (The Iranian) The crisis was only a stepping stone for the U.S. in learning from their mistakes. As a result, the United State's defense budget rose significantly. (The Iranian) Iran also learned a lesson from the crisis as well. Their goals that they set by taking the hostages captive were not achieved. Those goals consisted of "the return of the Shah and his wealth, a public apology from the United States for its past interference in Iran, and sympathy for its cause." (The Iranian)