Iran Seizes US Hostages - History

Iran Seizes US Hostages - History


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On November 4, 1979, a mob of Iranian students attacked the US embassy. They took the embassy personnel hostage and act that violated all norms of diplomatic behavior.

The United States had been a consistent supporter of the Shah of Iran. His country's increasing oil wealth made an alliance with Iran crucial to the US. The US sold ever-increasing amounts of military equipment to the Iranians, both to help secure Iran's position as a bulwark against communism, and to meet the American need to recycle petrodollars (e.g., to get the oil-producing nations to spend their newly acquired wealth in the US). The Shah, however, was under increasing pressure to reform. He often ruled with an iron fist, making use of the SAVAK, his secret police.

Domestic opposition to the Shah mounted from both the right and the left. The left wanted more significant reforms, and the right, led by Muslim fundamentalists who opposed most of the Shah reform, wanted to eliminate the growing Western influence in the country. Most outside analysts believed that the Shah would have no problem maintaining his rule. What they did not know was that the Shah had been diagnosed as with terminal cancer. He seemed to have no will to suppress the growing violence against his regime, and despite pleas from his army commanders, he refused to allow them to use force.

By this time, a single leader was developing in the opposition: Ayatollah Khomeini, a leading Muslim fundamentalist living in exile in France. On July 16, 1979, the Shah left the country for a "vacation." Two weeks later, the Ayatollah had returned to lead a new fundamentalist government.

In late October, the Shah arrived in the United States to receive medical treatment. On November 4, 1979, a mob of Iranian students attacked the US embassy. They seized the embassy personnel as hostages. This was a violation of all norms of diplomatic behavior.

For a year, the hostage crisis dominated US policy. President Carter made it clear that obtaining the release of US hostages was his highest priority. Despite his efforts, no progress was made. In April 1980, a military rescue mission was attempted but had to be aborted before it had come anywhere near the hostages.

Finally, after the election of Ronald Reagan, the Iranians released the hostages after receiving a release of their impounded assets.


Iranian frozen assets

Iranian frozen assets in international accounts are calculated to be worth between $100 billion [1] [2] and $120 billion. [3] [4] Almost $1.973 billion of Iran's assets are frozen in the United States. [5] According to the Congressional Research Service, in addition to the money locked up in foreign bank accounts, Iran's frozen assets include real estate and other property. The estimated value of Iran's real estate in the U.S. and their accumulated rent is $50 million. [1] Besides the assets frozen in the U.S., some parts of Iran's assets are frozen around the world by the United Nations. [1]

As of January 2021, Iran had frozen assets in the following countries: $7 billion in South Korea $6 billion in Iraq $20 billion in China $1.5 billion in Japan 1.6 billion in Luxembourg. [6]


Generally, use of lethal force to stop or escape a kidnapper would be legal. Some exceptions apply. If you were kidnapped as a child, you could not seek out the kidnapper years later and shoot him. You can’t escape, go to a place of safety, then return and shoot the kidnapper.

In sum, to be guilty of Kidnapping under CPC §207(a), the prosecution must prove that:

  1. You took or held someone through force or fear AND,
  2. You moved, or made the person move, a substantial distance AND,
  3. The other person didn’t consent AND,
  4. You didn’t actually believe the person consented.

Why the U.S. Owed Iran That $400 Million

I t does look fishy as all get out: $400 million in assorted denominations, stacked on wooden pallets and flown to Tehran in the dead of night by the government of the United States. Hours later, five imprisoned Americans are released and board planes to freedom. If that situation&mdashwhich took place in January&mdashdoesn’t look like a hostage deal, what does?

Answer: The actual hostage deal that in fact accounts for the cash payment, which President Obama said on Thursday was not a ransom.

The currency shipped to Iran in the dead of night drew attention from presidential candidate Donald Trump this week, who on Friday appeared to walk back an earlier assertion that he had seen a payment being delivered. But that money was owed to the Islamic Republic since 1979, the year the U.S. froze all the Iranian funds in American banks as retribution for seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, as revolution swept that nation.

What was universally known as the Iran hostage crisis went on for more than a year, and finally ended with a bargain: In exchange for the release of 52 American diplomats and citizens, both sides agreed to resolve the question of money through international arbitration. The Iran-United States Claims Tribunal has trudged along for almost four decades now, and the money has flowed both ways. By 1983, Iran had returned $896 million to U.S. banks, which in turn had returned hundreds of millions in frozen funds to Iran. Today, private claims from the U.S. side have been resolved to the tune of $2.1 billion.

But still at issue as Obama began his second term was $400 million that Iran in the late 1970s had paid for U.S. fighter jets, while Tehran was still a U.S. ally. After it turned into an enemy in 1979, Washington was not about to deliver the jets. But, all these years later, Iran wanted its money back&mdashand with interest.

All told, Tehran was asking The Hague arbitrators (comprising equal numbers of U.S., Iranian and neutral judges) for $10 billion. Fearing they might actually be awarded that much, or something like it, the Obama administration negotiated privately with Tehran, which agreed to settle for $1.7 billion. The $400 million stacked on pallets was the first installment.

The day it arrived, however, a great deal else was going on. January 17 was the day the international compact rolling back Iran’s nuclear program was set to take formal effect. It was also the day that Iran had, privately, agreed to release five Americans it had imprisoned on spurious charges. At the same time, the Obama administration would release seven Iranians the U.S. had held for violating sanctions&mdashthe same sanctions that had brought Iran to the negotiating table, and indeed had necessitated doing business in cash, Iran’s banks having been cut off from the international banking system.

There were a lot of moving parts and fraying nerves at the time&mdashand the whole teetering contraption nearly came crashing down when a couple of U.S. Navy river boats strayed into Iranian waters, and were taken by the Revolutionary Guards five days before the big day. To those who follow U.S.-Iranian relations, the swiftness of the sailors’ release&mdashthe very next day&mdashwas the most impressive indication of how badly both sides wanted January 17 to come off as planned.

The pallets of Euros and Swiss francs are even more vivid a symbol. To Iran-watchers, they show how badly Obama’s team wanted to bolster Iran’s moderate leaders, who had promised their public that the nuclear deal would produce immediate economic improvements. It also helps to bear in mind that Iran’s theocratic government works on a patronage system. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president, it was his loyalists who got the contracts to smuggle Iran’s oil past the sanctions President Hassan Rouhani is now grappling with the fallout from paying his own people tens of thousands a month. In short, cash and a show of good will were much in demand.

Were the prisoners a factor? Even on Jan. 17, when the apparent quid pro quo was Obama’s grant of clemency to the seven Iranians, the concept of hostage-taking haunts every transaction with Iran.


November 4, 1979: The Iran Hostage Crisis

During August 2005, American newspapers and television screens were unexpectedly filled with images of 1979. The scene of the U.S. embassy in Iran being taken over by radical students, effigies of Uncle Sam being burned, and angry mobs desecrating the American flag seemed the order of the day. The latest crisis in U.S.–Iranian relations was sparked by five former American hostages who identified the newly elected Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as one of their captors. The Iranian denials did not diminish the anger of the hostages and their demands for justice and recompense. The revival of the dramas of 1979 reveals that the hostage crisis is hardly a stale historic episode its images and emotions continue to shape the collective conscious of the American public. For a generation of Americans, the hostage crisis remains an open wound, transforming Iran into an unsavory state unfit for rehabilitation.

Sunday, November 4, 1979, began as any other day in revolutionary Tehran, with protests engulfing the streets of the capital. But then the ostensible purpose of the hostage taking was the students’ alarm that the Shah’s admission to the United States for medical treatment was an attempt by Washington to orchestrate a coup against Iran’s nascent revolution. Initially, all the parties involved assumed the crisis would be short-lived. The students themselves hoped to deliver what they called a propaganda of deed, and then return to their universities the Carter administration, accustomed to Iranian transgressions, sensed yet another momentary crisis soon to be resolved and the officials of Iran’s provisional government seemed more annoyed than exulted by the students’ militancy. Yet the embassy takeover would soon be entangled in Iran’s vicious factional politics, prolonging the incarceration of the hapless diplomats.

The memories of 1953 should not be discounted in understanding the hostage crisis. In November 1979, the Iranian revolution was truly under threat: its contending factions were battling each other, ethnic minorities in Kurdistan and Khuzestan were agitating for autonomy, and the imperial army was still largely intact. From the perspective of Iranians, whose country had been subject of persistent foreign intervention for much of the twentieth century, it was not unreasonable to perceive that the United States and its allies were conspiring against the new regime. Was it irrational to believe that the embassy that plotted the 1953 coup was not concocting a similar scheme in 1979?

A look back at the Iran of 1979 reveals a revolutionary elite that really did see itself as under siege, struggling against enemies, real and imagined. Despite their flamboyant rhetoric and defiant posture, the Islamic Republic’s leaders were extremely anxious about U.S. intervention. An Iranian generation accustomed to believing that American machinations lay behind all of their country’s misfortunes found it impossible to believe that the Carter administration would passively accept the demise of its reliable ally in the strategically critical Persian Gulf. As such, the takeover of the embassy was a strike against the nefarious American plot, a nonexistent one at that. Still, Iran’s insecure revolutionaries came to perceive that by taking over the embassy, they would necessarily prolong their new mission.

As we have seen, for Ayatollah Khomeini the hostage crisis offered a tantalizing opportunity to outflank his domestic political rivals, particularly the moderates. In the Islamic Republic’s first days in February 1979, Khomeini recognized that it was an inopportune time to unleash the Islamic order, as he and his disciples were still insufficiently organized to assume complete power. And so Khomeini agreed to the appointment of the moderate Mehdi Bazargan as prime minister. A devout leader with impeccable nationalistic and religious credentials, the new premier was acceptable to the bewildering factions that waged the revolution. As a leader of the Freedom Movement, Bazargan was part of a generation of Iranian intellectuals who sought to harmonize their religious values with modern transformations. He was an engineer of some accomplishment, a political activist often jailed by the Shah, and a man of absolute integrity. More important, Bazargan was a man of order, reassuring those who were put off by the rash conduct of the revolution and who sought to sustain existing institutional arrangements.

The provisional government signaled its intention to pursue a pragmatic foreign policy, even maintaining ties with the United States. To be sure, it did not envision an alliance as under the Shah, but the two powers could still maintain normal relations and avoid unnecessary antagonism. This was the message that Bazargan and his foreign minister, Ibrahim Yazdi, conveyed to Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, when they met in Algiers shortly after the revolution. Far from seeking to revamp the international norms along ideological lines, Bazargan sought to assert Iran’s sovereign rights without provoking the animosity of the Western powers.

The stage was set for an all-out battle between the secular and religious forces, as each side sought to shape the revolution in its own image. During the pivotal period of 1979–81, numerous institutions and ruling documents were crafted, and the foundations of the Islamic Republic were defined. In the realm of foreign policy, Khomeini was appalled by Bazargan’s essential moderation resisting the “Great Satan” was a defining and enduring tenet of Khomeini’s ideology. The revolution had been waged not just for the Islamic redemption of Iranian society but also as a strike against America’s imperial encroachment in the Middle East. The network of the mosques, the revolutionary committees, and the vast organizational structure of the clerical militants now went to work agitating against Bazargan and his provisional government. However, Iran’s revolutionaries needed a crisis to arouse the population, discredit their foes, and consolidate their power. The radical students and their impulsive conduct offered the plotting Khomeini his chance.

Shortly after the takeover of the embassy, Khomeini quickly endorsed the students’ action, noting, “Today underground plots are being hatched in these embassies, mostly by the Great Satan.” The Iranian demands for ending the hostage crisis seemed equally fantastic as Tehran called for the return of the Shah and his assets, the end of American interference in Iran’s internal affairs, and an apology for past U.S. misdeeds. Khomeini’s stance ensured that unlike previous assaults on the embassy immediately after the revolution, the current crisis would be prolonged. Khomeini’s embrace of the embassy takeover stiffened the resolution of the students, who now saw themselves as a vanguard of a great revolutionary struggle seeking the emancipation of Iran, if not the entire Third World.

Jimmy Carter’s response to the hostage crisis reflected the dilemma of an administration caught between limits of its power and rising popular dissatisfaction with its conduct. The Carter administration truly had no viable option for quickly ending the crisis, entangled as it was in the vagaries of Iran’s domestic politics. The president’s legitimate insistence that the hostages must be kept alive and safely released further narrowed his options. The prevailing military contingencies focused on punitive strikes against Iran’s military and economic targets. However, such strikes were quickly shelved because they could trigger a terrible Iranian retaliation—the killing of the hostages. The alternative measure of imposing a naval blockade on Iran would similarly lead to the loss of American and Iranian lives without necessarily bringing about a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Moreover, such a strategy could have provoked Iranian retaliation against the oil traffic in the Persian Gulf, leading to catastrophically high gas and oil prices.

In the absence of viable options, the United States fell back on its customary default position, economic sanctions. Washington imposed a ban on further purchases of Iran’s oil and on all trade, with the exception of food and medicine. The Carter administration also froze Iran’s assets in the United States, which amounted to $12 billion. Such economic measures were unlikely to stay the determination of a revolutionary regime that was indifferent to the cost of its militancy. Moreover, Tehran had already announced its refusal to sell oil to the “Great Satan” and was not eager for the expansion of other commercial ties.

The pressure on the Carter administration was accentuated by the fact that the hostage drama was one of the first international crises to become part of the daily political debates and discussions in America. The tribulations of the captive diplomats evoked a powerful emotional response from the American people, a response that was nurtured by the saturated media coverage. The venerable CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite closed every broadcast with the tally of the number of days the hostages had spent in captivity, and television screens continuously broadcast images of bearded mullahs denouncing the United States. Thus did the Iranian revolution come into every home in America. President Carter, for his part, reinforced the American public’s fixation, as the president naturally made the plight of the hostages his most pressing priority, remaining in the Oval Office until late at night to micromanage the crisis. As the hostage crisis lingered, it began to epitomize America’s struggle in the post-Vietnam period. Once more, America appeared abused and victimized, without an ability to respond in an effective manner. The hostages’ continued detention led their fellow citizens to demand action and ultimately to blame Carter for his seeming lack of resolution.

In the meantime, Iran’s militant mullahs were busy garnering the benefits of a nationalistically aroused populace. A beleaguered Bazargan and his cabinet resigned in November 1980 after its inability to gain the release of the hostages, paving the way for the further consolidation of power by Khomeini and his disciples. The clerical cadre now triumphed in parliamentary elections and oversaw the passage of a referendum that affirmed the revised constitution with its privileged position for the Supreme Leader. The battered secular opposition was castigated as agents of America, and their criticism of the mullahs’ dictatorial tendencies were dismissed as fracturing national unity at a time of confrontation with the “Great Satan.” In the meantime, a cultural revolution that was to purify Iran’s institutions was also launched under the stern purview of the revolutionaries. Under the shadow of conflict with America, Iran was being transformed into a new society, governed by a reactionary cohort in the name of Islamic militancy.

It is important to note that while the United States condemned Iran’s conduct as a breach of international law, it was a violation of Shiite Islam’s own traditions as well. Historically, Shiite clergy have been generous in assuring safe passage to non-Muslim emissaries. The great Islamic empires were at pains to accommodate diplomats from all countries and treated them with respect and deference. These traditions were sanctified by a clerical class that was the guardian of law. An entire legal corpus soon evolved on the need to grant protection to representatives of all states. As a learned Shiite scholar, Khomeini must have been familiar with these traditions and must have known that his conduct was contravening the established norms of the Islamic order he was purportedly committed to constructing.

As diplomacy and economic pressure failed to resolve the crisis, an increasingly desperate Carter administration opted for a military rescue mission, Operation Eagle Claw. The planned operation was logistically complex. Using eight helicopters, a crew of 118 men would fly into Iran, refuel in the central desert, and proceed to a location close to Tehran. At that time, using pre-positioned trucks, they would embark toward the embassy and assault the compound. This would be a challenging task under the best of circumstances, but the unpredictable desert weather and lack of coordination forced commanders to abort the operation not long after it began. The mechanical problems arising from the desert storm and the crash of a helicopter with a refueling plane led to the deaths of eight American servicemen. The United States stood utterly humiliated, a superpower that could neither compel Iran to free its diplomats nor mount a credible rescue effort. Suddenly, Khomeini’s persistent slogan, “America cannot do a damn thing,” appeared eerily true.

By the fall of 1980, Khomeini appeared ready to end the ordeal of the American captives. By that point, he and his disciples had assumed control over all the key institutions of power and his vision of a rigid theocratic order had overcome the opposition of his erstwhile coalition partners. As a close aide, Behzad Nabavi, confessed, “The hostages were like a fruit from which all the juice had been squeezed out.” Even more dramatic, Iraq’s invasion of Iran on September 22, 1980, altered the national priorities, since the theocratic regime had to mobilize its resources behind a war effort that would prove daunting. However, Khomeini still had one last score to settle, refusing to release the hostages until Carter had been defeated in his reelection bid and formally relinquished power to his successor, Ronald Reagan. Khomeini perceived that a resolution of the crisis prior to the election might redound to Carter’s advantage, and thus he slowed the process to erode the president’s domestic support base. In a sense, Khomeini succeeded in overthrowing an American president, as Carter was decisively defeated. But this would prove an empty victory, as the Islamic Republic now had to contend with a more hawkish Reagan administration.

The conflicting Iranian and American perceptions of the hostage crisis reflect its differing impact on the two nations. For the Iranians, the embassy was the “den of spies,” the embodiment of a superpower that had sustained a cruel monarchy. For the Americans, the hostages were fellow citizens, ordinary individuals held against their will by an inhuman regime. Iranians saw the crisis as a triumphant blow against a superpower, while the Americans perceived it in terms of suffering of families whose loved ones were unjustifiably held captive. For one audience it was a political gesture of Third-World-ist defiance. For the other, it was a personal story of tragedy befallen their innocent countrymen.

In a curious manner, Khomeini’s fertile imagination failed him. The hostage crisis may have been useful in removing his internal rivals, but it also secured him the enmity of the American public, which would prove costly for his beleaguered nation. Iran paid a high price for its conduct, as the resulting international opprobrium forced it to deal with Saddam Hussein’s aggression in isolation. The Islamic Republic was a victim of Saddam’s invasion and his indiscriminate use of chemical weapons, but given Iran’s own violations of international law, not many states were willing to side with the mullahs and legitimize their claims. Moreover, Tehran paid another price as the most powerful economic and military power in the world subtly but effectively sided with Iraq as it waged its eight-year war against Iran.

Beyond the Iran-Iraq war, the legacy of the hostage crisis continues to extract a price from Iran. An indelible image of the Islamic Republic was imprinted on the collective psyche of the American people. Iranians were seen as fanatical, reactionary fundamentalists enchanted by their peculiar culture of martyrdom and impervious to reason. To a cross-section of the public, a theocratic anachronism steeped in its ossified ideology had managed to humiliate America with impunity. The chants of “Death to America,” mullahs in their strange clerical garb, and a population seemingly united in its hatred of America would be the enduring picture of Iran.

To be sure, the United States was no stranger to ideological adversaries, having contained and engaged the Soviet Union for over four decades. But the hostage crisis was fundamentally different. The anger and anguish that the Americans feel toward Iran is never far below the surface. The crisis led the Americans to build their own “wall of mistrust” that further estranged the two societies. Such popular disdain for the Islamic Republic has hampered prospects of rapprochement and has restricted the diplomatic moves of any U.S. administration seeking to engage Iran. The irony is that in the intervening quarter-century, the two powers would often have interests in common, but the emotional barrier to dealing with the other would preclude meaningful cooperation.

The twin crises of 1953 and 1979 would ensure that U.S.–Iranian relations would always transcend the strategic realm and would play themselves out at a visceral, emotional level. However, it would be the scandal of the Iran-Contra Affair that would frighten both elected officials and the diplomatic corps from embarking on an imaginative policy toward the Islamic Republic. The resolution of the U.S.–Iran imbroglio requires considerable skill and a willingness to assume risks. After Iran-Contra, there were not too many ambitious officials willing to endorse a creative policy with its potential perils.

Copyright © 2006 by Ray Takeyh.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

RAY TAKEYH is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he concentrates his work on Iran, Islamist movements, and Middle Eastern politics. He has held positions at the National Defense University, Yale, and Berkeley. His work has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, and the International Herald Tribune.


It was an international crisis that tarnished America’s global prestige and helped make Jimmy Carter a one-term president.

The Iranian Hostage Crisis began in 1979 when Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage.

It didn’t end for more than a year.

Iran’s Islamic revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran, who had maintained close ties to the U.S. for years.

The American Embassy in Tehran became the focus and target of frequent demonstrations by supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolutionary leader who fulminated relentlessly against America’s presence in Iran.

When the deposed Shah came to the U.S. for cancer treatment, a mob of 3,000 Iranian militants stormed the embassy. Negotiations to free the hostages played out during the 1980 presidential campaign between Carter and Ronald Reagan.

A failed rescue attempt left 8 American soldiers dead, further humiliating a president already weakened by an oil embargo-fueled bad economy. The hostages were finally released after 444 days, just minutes after Reagan’s January 1981 inauguration.

Jimmy Carter’s presidency had been fatally crippled by the crisis that began on November 4, 1979, Today in Georgia History.


A brief history of US-Iranian relations

A brief history of the long-strained relations between the United States and Iran:

1953: A CIA-backed coup overthrows Iranian Prime Minister Mohamed Mossadegh, restores shah to power. The U.S. provides the increasingly autocratic shah hundreds of millions of dollars over the next quarter-century.

1979: Iranians overthrow the shah. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returns from exile, seizes power and declares the U.S. the "Great Satan." Militants storm the U.S. Embassy and hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The United States ends diplomatic relations with Iran.

1980-88: U.S. supports Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war. Some 1.5 million people are killed.

1983: Iranian-backed Hezbollah is blamed for the bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon and of the Beirut barracks of the U.S. Marine Corps, which killed 258 Americans.

1986: The Reagan administration is exposed for covertly selling arms to Iran and using the proceeds to bankroll a secret war in Central America.

1987-88: U.S. and Iranian forces clash in Persian Gulf.

1998: The U.S. mistakenly downs an Iranian passenger jet flying above the Strait of Hormuz, killing 290 people. Iran and Iraq reach a cease-fire.

1990s: Iran is accused of supporting a series of Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist attacks around the world.

1995: President Bill Clinton imposes far-reaching oil and trade sanctions on Iran.

1997: Iran elects reformist President Mohammed Khatami as president. The U.S. scales back some sanctions.

2001: After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. and Iran coordinate on action against the Taliban and aid to Afghanistan.

2002: President George W. Bush includes Iran in his "Axis of Evil." Washington releases information about Iran's nuclear program.

2003: After ousting Saddam Hussein and occupying Iraq, U.S. accuses Iran of helping Shiite militants kill American soldiers.

2005: Hard-line conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad becomes Iran's president, issues a series of provocative statements against the U.S. and Israel.

2006-2010_The U.S. succeeds in getting four rounds of U.N. sanctions passed against Iran. They demand Tehran stop enriching uranium and exporting weapons, and they set banking, trade and travel restrictions.

2009: Obama takes office promising engagement with Iran. Months later, Ahmadinejad gets another term as president after a contested vote and violent, postelection crackdown. U.S. and Israel covertly sabotage Iran's nuclear program.

2011: U.S. and Iran support opposing sides in Syria's civil war. After violence breaks out, Tehran actively helps Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Washington slowly expands aid to the rebels.

2012: U.S. begins working with countries around the world to reduce oil purchases from Iran. A year later, Iran's exports drop by half and its economy is in tatters.

2012-13_Several rounds of nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers fail to make progress.

2013: Hasan Rouhani assumes the Iranian presidency, promising a new course of moderation.


Iran Liable for Loss Of U.S. Assets Seized In 1979, Judge Rules

A federal judge here held yesterday that Iran is liable for damages to American companies whose assets were seized last summer when the revolutionary government there took control of all foreign-owned interests.

U.S. District Court Judge George L. Hart Jr. made the decision despite expressions of concern by Justice Department lawyers that any rulings in legal cases involving Iran could jeopardize efforts by the Carter administration tonegotiate the release of the American hostages in Iran.

However, Hart that the government should have backed up that argument in court with testimony from a State Department high official familiar with the hostage crisis.

Legal observers described Hart's ruling as unprecedented in that it states that American courts can decide how much money a foreign country owes for its nationalization of assets owned by Americans.

Hart acted in the case of a group of insurance companies claiming Iran owes them $35 million in compensation for the takeover of a financial interest there in June 1979 after the downfall of the shah.

In an eight-page decision, Hart said that Iran's failure to pay promptly and adequately for the losses violates a 1955 treaty on economic relations between the United States and Iran and violates international law. Hart concluded that the American companies had no alternative but to go to the courts to seek compensation.

In all, claims for more than $5 billion in at least 218 civil suits have been filed in U.S. courts against Iran. Hart's decision was the first substantive ruling in those cases since the hostages were seized last November. The Carter administration has asked the courts to remain neutral for the time being.

Last Nov. 14, 10 days after the hostages were taken, President Carter ordered the freezing of Iranian assets held in American banks. The lawsuits filed essentially represent the lining up in the courts by private interests for what they claim is their share of the $8 billion that was frozen.

The insurance firms involved in yesterday's ruling are American International Group Inc., the Continental Corp. and INA Corp.

It was unclear what effect Hart's decision would have on other claims. Attorneys for Iran said yesterday that they will appeal his decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The Iranian government nationalized all 12 insurance companies operating in that country on June 25, 1979. At the time, no mention was made of compensation to foreign owners.

About two weeks earlier, the government took control of the country's banks but assured that compensation would be made. In early July 1979 virtually all private, large-scale industry was nationalized, again with no mention of compensation. Interests held by American companies were involved in all three actions.

In his ruling, Hart wrote that "it is absolutely clear that the Republic of Iran has shown a complete and utter disregard for international law by its seizure and holding of diplomatic hostages for a period exceeding eight months and its disdain of all diplomatic and international efforts to obtain their release."

During the hearing before Hart yesterday, John D. Aldock, an attorney representing Iran, told Hart that Iranian officials began work last summer trying to determine how much American companies were owed in compensation for nationalization of their assets.

Aldock contended that international law provides that disputes in such cases be handled through diplomatic channels or through the international court of justice.

"I find it very strange that this defendant would come in and talk about the international court of justice," Hart said.


Iran’s ‘mock execution’ torture on US embassy hostages exposed

The Iran hostage crisis was a diplomatic standoff between the US and Iran, which lasted 444 days between November 4, 1979, and January 20, 1981. It began after the Iranian Revolution overthrew the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, an ally to the US. After Shah Pahlavi was ousted he was admitted to the US for cancer treatment, later being granted asylum, while Iran demanded his return in order to stand trial for crimes that he was accused of committing during his reign.

As a result, a group of Iranian college students who supported the revolution, seized the US embassy in Tehran, in what was described as an act of “blackmail” of which the hostages were “victims of terrorism and anarchy,&rdquo by President Jimmy Carter.

The History Channel’s &ldquoIran Hostage Crisis&rdquo documentary explained the details behind Iran&rsquos fury.

The series said in 2017: &ldquoIn 1953, the US helped topple Iran&rsquos elected Prime Minister, replacing him with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, also known as the Shah.

&ldquoHe was friendly to US interests, particularly when it came to oil, but was not very popular in Iran.

Several hostages were victim to a mock execution

History Channel

&ldquoHe was a brutal dictator and his infamous secret police terrorised, tortured and killed people.

&ldquoOpposition to the Shah grew and grew and, in January 1979, he and his family left Iran and by the spring of that year, a religious leader &ndash Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini &ndash took power.

&ldquoKhomeini established a new government, the Islamic Republic, and this new government had no love for the United States.&rdquo

The documentary went on to reveal how the problem had been building up for a while before the Shah was granted access to the US.

It added: &ldquoThey staged demonstrations outside the US embassy in Tehran, trouble was brewing.

&ldquoBut after leaving Iran, the Shah bounced around from country to country, but after a cancer diagnosis he wanted to come to the United States to receive the best medical care.

&ldquoPresident Jimmy Carter didn&rsquot want to admit the Shah but relented under pressure.

&ldquoThe Shah arrived at a New York hospital on October 22, 1979, but giving shelter to the Shah angered the Iranian revolutionists a lot.

&ldquoOn November 4, 1979, a huge mob of protesters attacked the US embassy in Tehran, they took 63 people working at the embassy prisoner, then three more were taken hostage later.&rdquo

According to claims from John Limbert, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran, he and the other hostages were tortured.

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The series continued: &ldquo13 days later, the Ayatollah ordered the release of 13 hostages, leaving 53 and another was released on medical grounds, but from then on the remaining 52 were held for 444 days.

&ldquoNo hostages were killed, but they weren&rsquot treated well either, with some beaten with rubber hoses, hung over elevator shafts and several were victim to a mock execution.

&ldquoBack in the States, the hostage situation gripped the public and the US government demanded the release, but the Iranians wanted The Shah.

&ldquoUS froze Iranian assets held in American banks, but still the Iranians didn&rsquot budge.&rdquo

The crisis reached a climax after diplomatic negotiations failed to win the release of the hostages, sending warships to the waters near Iran, alongside a rescue helicopter which crashed killing eight US servicemen on board.

The documentary added: &ldquoIn April 1980, President Carter authorised a military rescue mission known as Operation Eagle Claw, but poor weather and mechanical failures doomed the mission leaving the US embarrassed on the world stage.

&ldquoCarter was in an election and his opponent, Ronald Reagan, pounced on him for being weak, and when election day rolled around the hostages were still being held captive with no end in sight.

&ldquoReagan defeated Carter and by the start of 1981, the Iranian government started to feel the pressure from the international community to release the hostages.

&ldquoUS and Iran went back to the bargaining table, in exchange for lifting the embargo, Iran agreed to release their prisoners.

&ldquoJust hours after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office in January 1981, the American hostages were freed.&rdquo

This poor judgement is cited as a major factor in the downfall of Carter&rsquos presidency and his landslide loss in the 1980 election by many political analysts.

Reflecting on his decision in 2014, Carter said: &ldquoI think I would have been re-elected easily if I had been able to rescue our hostages from the Iranians.

&ldquoEverybody asks me what I would do, well I would send one more helicopter, because if I had one more helicopter we could have not only brought the 52 hostages back, but also the rescue team.

&ldquoWhen that (the helicopter) failed I think it was the main factor that brought about my failure to be re-elected.

&ldquoSo that&rsquos one thing I would change, but I could have been re-elected if I&rsquod taken military action against Iran.

&ldquoI think if I could have wiped Iran off the map with the weapons that we had, but in the process a lot of innocent people would have been killed.&rdquo


In his State of the Union address, President George Bush denounces Iran as part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and North Korea. The speech causes outrage in Iran.

The US accuses Iran of a clandestine nuclear weapons programme, which Iran denies. A decade of diplomatic activity and intermittent Iranian engagement with the UN's nuclear watchdog follows.

But several rounds of sanctions are imposed by the UN, the US and the EU against ultra-conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government. This causes Iran's currency to lose two-thirds of its value in two years.


Our misunderstanding of the hostage crisis still poisons US-Iran relations

An anti-American mural was present on the exterior walls of the former US embassy in Tehran for years. File/Associated Press

A FEW WEEKS AGO, as I was giving a speech urging better relations between the United States and Iran, a man on the edge of the crowd began shouting in protest. Slowly I was able to make out his words. He was chanting a single phrase: “Hostage crisis! Hostage crisis! Hostage crisis!”

Forty years ago this weekend, militants scaled the wall of the American Embassy compound in Tehran and seized it. They could not have imagined how decisively they would shape history. Many Iranians still wonder how the embassy takeover and subsequent “hostage crisis” ended up shaping American perceptions of them and their country so decisively and for so long. Yet for the protester who disrupted my speech, and for countless other Americans, that episode crystallized the image of a malevolent Iran. Our other national humiliations, from the Alamo to Saigon, have faded from memory or been transformed into noble lost causes. Anger over the hostage crisis has not subsided. For four decades it has grotesquely distorted our approach to the Middle East. Although it ended peacefully with the release of American diplomats, it has had an effect on our national consciousness — and our foreign policy — comparable to the effect of the 9/11 attacks, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed.

The hostage crisis is a lamentable example of how ignorance leads nations to misunderstand each other. It led many Americans to believe that Iranians act out of pure nihilism, cheerfully violating every law of God and man without any reason other than a desire to show how much they hate us. Only years later did it become clear that the opposite was true. The hostage-takers acted to achieve a specific political goal — to stave off what they suspected was an imminent effort by the Americans to reinstall a despised Iranian leader. We might have recognized their motive if we knew our own history.

Rarely has a national humiliation been played out so excruciatingly as during the crisis that began in Iran on Nov. 4, 1979. Americans were already shocked by the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, our prized ally, earlier that year. Seizure of our embassy compound turned that shock from political to emotional. On newscasts every night for 14 months, Americans watched with mounting rage as images from Iran — blindfolded hostages intercut with vituperative denunciations of the United States — flooded into our living rooms. An attempted rescue mission ended in disaster. The hostage-takers had a slogan: “America cannot do anything!” They were right. That only intensified anti-Iran passion in a nation more accustomed to inflicting humiliation than feeling it. The result has been 40 years of bitter hostility.

We now know that militants stormed our embassy in Tehran because they feared the United States was about to launch a coup and reinstall the deposed shah. Diplomats posted there had reported this fear to Washington. They warned in one cable that if President Carter brought the shah to the United States, Iranians would believe the coup plot was underway and their reaction would be “immediate and violent.” When they learned that Carter had decided to bring the shah to New York despite their warning, one of them later recalled, they “felt we had been betrayed by our own people. How could they admit the Shah and leave us in Iran to face the angry wolves?”

Those diplomats knew something that few other Americans understood. A quarter-century earlier, in 1953, the CIA had directed a coup that destroyed an incipient democracy in Iran and placed the shah back on his Peacock Throne. Memory of that intervention, and the 25-year dictatorship that followed, burned in the minds of Iranian revolutionaries. They knew that Iranians had overthrown the Pahlavi shah once before, and that CIA officers working in the basement of the American Embassy had directed a coup that placed him back in power. Since it had happened once, they reasoned, it could happen again. To prevent that, they stormed the embassy.

“In the back of everybody’s mind hung the suspicion that, with the admission of the Shah to the United States, the countdown for another coup d’etat had begun,” one of the hostage-takers wrote years later. “Such was to be our fate again, we were convinced, and it would be irreversible. We now had to reverse the irreversible.”

But if Iranian militants were intent on preventing a second coup, few Americans had any idea that we had ever staged a first. That is why we misinterpreted their assault as an act of mindless savagery.

Two generations of American politicians and military officers have been obsessed with punishing Iran for the embassy takeover and hostage crisis. Their enmity has other reasons as well, including hostile Iranian actions and pressure from our regional partners, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Yet after four decades, policy makers in Washington remain fixated on the events of 1979 and convinced that we cannot rest until we have satisfaction. For many of them, it seems, true satisfaction can only come with the destruction of the Islamic Republic.

Americans see the history of US-Iran relations as beginning and ending with the hostage crisis. Iranians see that history quite differently: shaped almost entirely by the 1953 coup. Until these two countries come to a common understanding of what we have done to each other, peace will remain remote.

Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.