Section One

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January 4, 1981: “That’s All There Is Left”
Washington Post

On November 4, 1979, Iranian “student” revolutionaries invaded the American embassy in Tehran and took sixty-six hostages. Iran’s new government refused to intervene. The students demanded the return of the previous ruler, the shah, who was undergoing cancer surgery in the U.S.; the return of his fortune; and an apology from the United States for allowing the shah into the country.

The endless negotiations—and Carter’s obsession with the crisis—lost him popular support. A rescue mission attempted in April 1980 was a complete debacle, killing eight American soldiers. In January 1981, with Carter’s term nearing its end, he warned the Iranians that previous U.S. proposals might be withdrawn by the incoming Reagan administration, perhaps replaced by a harder position. Agreement was reached on Inauguration Day, but as an insult to Carter, Iran waited until Ronald Reagan was sworn in before releasing the hostages. In the Middle East, the settlement was seen as a victory for the Iranian radicals.