Iranian Hostage Situation

The Iranian Hostage Situation was an event where more than 50 United States embassy employees were held for 444 days in Tehran, Iran by students in protest to the shah of Iran's migration from Iran to America after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. While the former shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was in power, social and political protests were often met with censorship, surveillance, or harassment. Illegal detention and torture were common for those who did not support the shah's westernized views. Many Iranians were angered that the shah of Iran could no longer be trialed, residing in a different country. As a response, Iranian students demanded the shah's return by taking embassy workers as hostages. Thus, the tension between the United States and Iran intensified due to the critical events of the late 1970s and 1980s, and moments of reconciliation have become less frequent.

This page analyzes the foreign policy efforts of the United States government to retrieve the embassy employees during Jimmy Carter's term as president. In the context of this exhibit, the United States Government is considered to be the institution that is reacting to student protests in Iran.

Key Concepts of this Page:

  • the strong language used by people in government in response to the event
  • the decision to deport some students in the United States
  • the economic and financial repercussions of foreign policy decisions towards Iran

Iran's Four Conditions to release the Hostages:

  • a pledge of non-interference in Iranian affairs
  • release of frozen assets
  • cancellation of al sanctions and U.S. claims against Iran
  • return all of the shah's assets and those of his family
Statement of Congressman Bill Archer on the Iranian Situation

Statement of Congressman Bill Archer on the Iranian Situation

Excerpts from Item:

"Furthermore, I cannot conceive of any reason to continue diplomatic relations with Iran. Diplomatic relations are based on a mutual recognition that there is a legitimate government in both nations. This is certainly not the case in Iran where there is no real governmental structure -- let alone one that recognizes basic human rights and values."

"Any Iranian student who violates American law should be immediately deported. They were admitted to this country to further their education -- not to be a part of the propoganda ministry of a nation which not only condones but which publicly supports acts of terrorism... If they truly support the Khomeini regime, they should be forced to return to Iran and live under the chaos that it has created."

Deportation of Iranian Students in the U.S.

Archer Calls for Deportation of Iranian Students

Excerpts from Item:

"' The religious zealots who are in control have now reached the point of condoning and encouraging acts of mob violence and terrorism against diplomats of other nations.'"

"Let them go home and live in the chaos which the regime they support has brought to Iran."

Effect on Iranian Students in the United States

In November of 1979, Jimmy Carter declared that the United States would sever diplomatic ties with Iran, freezing Iranian assets in America and invalidating all visas issued to Iranian people. Iranians in the United States were afraid to leave the country because they would lose protection outside of the United States. Iranians with visas who were abroad at that moment were not allowed to travel.

All Iranian students in college were required to verify their enrollment status to Immigration and Naturalization Services, or they would be deported. Three nonimmigrant Iranian students challenged this requirement under the claim that it was selective of a person's national origin. Originally, this case was considered unconstitutional, but it was later appealed.

Archer Co-Sponsors Measure to gain Support for the Release of Hostages

Archer Co-Sponsors Measure to gain Support for Release of Hostages

Excerpts from Item:

"'...indication to the world that we and the House of Representatives are willing to take action to use whatever economic leverage we have to gain the release of the hostages.'"

"Archer said the measure would give the President temporary authority for 180 days to increase tariffs by over 50 percent in cases where tariffs already exist and to impose new tariffs of up to 50 percent of an article's value in cases where no tariff presently exists." 

Iranian Pistachios

Regarding Iranian Pistachios

Excerpts from Item:

"Prior to the trade embargo imposed on Iran, that nation dominated the pistachio market in the United States."

"'As a result, I am cosponsoring two pieces of legislation, HR-1867 and HR-1868, aimed at making American growers more competitive with the Iranians.' HR-1868 would impose a 100 percent duty on Iranian pistachios entering the United States and HR-1867 would require importers to label consumer packages distinctly as having them come from Iran."

"'They simply need a chance to place a superior product, the American pistachio, in fair competition with the subsidized Iranian nuts.

Settlement Agreement Document

United States Economic and Financial Evaluation:

Because of changing conditions during the Iranian Revolution and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini, the State Department had discussed the potential freezing of assets before the embassy employees were taken as hostages. The United States government considered using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act within the Executive Branch to freeze Iranian assets nine months before the Iranian Hostage Situation. The Trading with the Enemy Act, similar to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, allows every president in recent history the ability to institute economic sanctions against any country whose actions satisfied the criteria. The previous countries whose assets were frozen include China, North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam. With this strategy, the United States increased their surveillance on Iran in November 1978; even though, the embassy members were taken as hostages about a year later. The State Department created the Emergency and Evacuation Plan, which consisted of employees from the State Department, the International Communication Agency, the Pentagon, and other intelligence agencies, to evaluate all aspects of Iranian conditions for American people living abroad and the United State's trading interests.

The motivations for increasing surveillance on Iran are uncertain. Despite months of political turmoil and some general threats by Ayatollah Khomeini to repudiate contracts with U.S. firms negotiated by the shah, Iran remained up-to-date on the repayment of the vast majority of its debts to U.S. financial institutions. At least some offices in the Treasury Department were convinced that the Iranian upheaval was not a threat to the U.S. banking system. The economic situation was relatively stable compared to the volatile political climate in Iran. Thus there is no apparent reason why the consideration of a freeze progressed as far as it did under those circumstances.

Most people think the shah had been admitted into the United States because of health reasons, but the shah had threatened to pull his investments out of the United States. The U.S. Treasury knew it was entirely possible that since 1974 the shah had accumulated an enormous and secret stock of government securities, but there was no way to tell how valued his portfolios were due to the Treasury's own rules about secrecy. It was widely believed within the administration that a Saudi decision to pull out of treasury notes between November 1977 and August 1978- estimated to be a movement of approximately 11.7 billion dollars- significantly affected the U.S. dollar value. The Treasury department feared that the shah's stocks were just as valued as the Saudis, if not more, so they allowed him to migrate to the United States. There is no indication whether the shah's alleged Treasury holdings had any influence on the hostage negotiations, but the entire event could have been avoided had this not been the controversial part of the situation.

Iranian Hostage Situation