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"On This Date in History" Calendar

1981: Iran released U.S. hostages.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

On Jan. 20, 1981, Iran released 52 Americans who had been held hostage for 444 days. (DoD photo of freed American hostages as they disembark from a plane at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Jan. 27, 1981, one week after being released.)

Excerpt from The New York Times Learning Network:

The hostages were released minutes after the presidency had passed from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. The hostages were placed on a plane in Tehran as Reagan delivered his inaugural address.

The Iran Hostage Crisis had begun on Nov. 4, 1979, when a group of several hundred militant Islamic students broke into the United States embassy in Tehran and took its occupants hostage. The students initially intended to hold the hostages for only a short time, but changed their plans when their act garnered widespread praise in Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the country’s supreme leader, was among the supporters.

In response, President Carter imposed economic sanctions on Iran. In April 1980, he authorized a rescue mission, Operation Eagle Claw, conducted by the U.S. military. The mission failed badly, as two U.S. aircraft collided, killing eight military personnel. The prolonged crisis came to reflect poorly on Mr. Carter, who was seen as weak for failing to secure the hostages’ release. Ronald Reagan’s defeat of President Carter in the 1980 presidential election happened to fall on the one-year anniversary of the hostage-taking.

Mr. Carter continued to negotiate for the hostages’ release until the end of his term of office. Finally, on Jan. 19, 1981, Algerian-mediated talks between the U.S. and Iran produced an agreement to end the crisis.


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