Iran hostage crisis’ end: How America helped secure the diplomats’ freedom

On this day in 1981, 52 Americans captives were freed from the U.S. embassy in Tehran, ending the 444-day Iran Hostage Crisis that was triggered after a group of radical Iranian students stormed the embassy.

The momentous event happened shortly after Ronald Regan was inaugurated as the 40th president of the United States.

Iranian students climb over the wall of the US embassy in Tehran 04 November 1979. 

Iranian students climb over the wall of the US embassy in Tehran 04 November 1979.  (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The crisis began on Nov. 4, 1979, when the students seized the U.S. embassy to protest President Jimmy Carter’s decision to allow the deposed Shah of Iran into the U.S. for medical treatment.

The Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme religious leader, took hold of the situation, spurning international appeals to release the hostages.

Two weeks into the hostage crisis, the ayatollah allowed non-U.S. captives and all female and minority Americans to be released on the grounds that they were oppressed by the U.S. government.

The remaining 52 hostages, who were mostly State Department employees and Marines, remained captive for the next 14 months.

In April 1980, President Carter ordered a disastrous rescue operation that resulted in eight U.S. military personnel killed and no hostages rescued. Three months later, the shah died in Egypt, but the crisis continued.


President Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan, who the Iranians believed would pursue a more aggressive line of action than his predecessor.

In the following weeks, negotiations were carried between Iran and the United States, with the help of Algerian intermediaries.


On Jan. 20, 1981 – the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president – the U.S. government unfroze nearly $8 billion in Iranian assets and the 52 American hostages were freed. The following day, Carter flew to West Germany to greet the freed hostages on their way home.