U.S. Embassy Hostage Crisis in Tehran - Newsreel (1979-1981)
Where most analysts trace the roots of current US grievances to the 1979 Revolution and the hostage crisis, a more accurate assessment would be to link the genesis of souring relations and American resentment of Iranian government policies further back to the 1970s oil crisis and the Shah’s refusal to lower the price of oil (a policy he deemed necessary to help the Iranian economy and development). Complicating matters, a new American strategy of Soviet containment was emerging, one that favored creating a green belt of Islam as an effective medium to repel Soviet influence in the Middle East and Central Asia regions. These frictions and emerging trends triggered the divisions murmured in the halls of the White House as senior officials in the administration soon questioned if the privileged relationship with the Shah and Iran should be maintained. Washington was slowly abandoning the Shah well before the 1979 Revolution. A fervently anti-Western Islamic government seized power in the chaos of the revolution. The US received more than it bargained for and lost its traditional ally, Iran. Saudi Arabia quickly moved to fill the void replacing Iran as “the” American ally in the Gulf.
1979 American Hostage Crisis
On 4 November 1979, the American Embassy in Tehran is stormed by Iranian revolutionaries. 52 American diplomats are taken hostage and held for 444 days. The crisis came to an end with the signing of the Algiers Accords on 19 January 1981. The American hostage crisis leads to a complete breakdown in US-Iran diplomatic ties severing formal relations since April 1980. In the aftermath of this catalytic event, the American government froze some $US12 billion of Iranian assets, the vast majority of which remain frozen to this day. The American Embassy in Tehran, which was used in 1953 to mastermind and execute the CIA coup, is the same embassy, which some thirty years later became the scene of the American hostage crisis during the 1979 Revolution. Though clearly not justified and in clear violation of international law, to the Iranian revolutionaries it made ‘rational’ sense to seize the Embassy given their fears that the same Embassy who had overthrown the country’s democracy years earlier might be used again to reinstall the Shah (a second time). To the revolutionaries, the Embassy was, as they called it, a “Den of Spies.” In the US, Americans with no clear memory or knowledge of the 1953 coup at the time looked at the hostage crisis on their TV screens as purely a barbaric act of the ‘Orient.’ The hostage crisis remains the cause of much rift between Tehran and Washington.