The Iran Hostage Crisis, which began on November 4, 1979, lasted for 444 days. It began just after the arrival of the Iranian Shah in America, and ended on the day of the inauguration of US President Ronald Reagan. 52 American citizens were held hostage by members of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line as part of the Iranian Revolution for the entire 444 days, with a few Americans released earlier in the crisis.
The student revolutionaries, who supported the Iranian Revolution to overthrow the contemporary Iranian government, stormed the US Embassy in Tehran. They declared that they would hold the Americans until the US government returned the Shah to Iran for trial. The Shah was in the US at the time, having been admitted for humanitarian reasons related to his cancer treatment. The student group used the hostage situation to express their outrage at the US for taking the Shah into the country. The students, as well as the other revolutionaries, wanted the Shah to be tried for crimes against Iranians. At first, the hostages were kept in the Embassy, but after a rescue mission (“Operation Eagle Claw”) failed, the hostages were moved to various locations in order to prevent further attempts to free them.
Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader in Iran in 1979, publicly supported the students in their hostage-taking, and also supported the demand that the US force the Shah to return to Iran. The Iranian government described the hostages as “guests” of Iran, and while none of the hostages were injured, their actions were severely limited and they were “blindfolded and paraded in front of TV cameras and jeering crowds” as well as being subjected to “mock executions” in which the hostages believed that they were going to be shot while blindfolded.
The Iran Hostage Crisis was a major news story, and it dramatically affected President Carter’s 1980 re-election campaign. Negotiations for the release of the hostages began in September 1980, but ultimately the hostages were not released until Ronald Reagan took the oath of office on January 20, 1981. The hostages were then taken into US custody and flown out of Iran. As a result of the Iran Hostage Crisis, there have been no diplomatic relations between the US and Iran since, and neither maintains an embassy in the other’s country.