Iran marks anniversary of failed US rescue attempt

DASHT-E-KAVIR, Iran (AP) — Hundreds of Iranians on Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of a failed U.S. military operation to rescue American hostages in Tehran, with prayers and words of defiance for Washington.

The 1980 rescue attempt — called Operation Eagle Claw — turned into a major embarrassment for the U.S. when an American helicopter collided with a C-130 transport plane at a desert landing spot during a sandstorm. Eight U.S. servicemen were killed.

As in years past, hundreds of hardline Iranians, many of them members of the paramilitary Basij volunteers, gathered at the crash site, some 370 miles (600 kilometers) southeast of Tehran, to celebrate the failed rescue.

Hardline parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani told those gathered, most of whom had been bused to the site, that the failed American mission "humiliated the arrogant" U.S. administration.

Mohammad Reza Fallahzadeh, a senior local officials, said the sandstorm that contributed to the accident was a "divine miracle" to protect the newly established Islamic Republic against the United States — "the symbol of evil."

Iran's hard-liners claim the mission was part of a U.S. military offensive to topple the country's hardline clerical rulers who had overthrown the pro-U.S. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi a year earlier.

The anniversary ceremony comes as Tehran is locked in a diplomatic standoff with the U.S. over its disputed nuclear program. President Barack Obama recently announced a new nuclear strategy that includes a vow not to use nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them.

Iran, however, was pointedly excepted from that pledge, along with North Korea, because Washington accuses them of not cooperating with the international community on nonproliferation standards.

The U.S. suspects Iran's nuclear program aims to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says it's designed solely for peaceful purposes.

One of the placards carried by the crowd Sunday taunted Obama over his efforts to confront Iran, with a message that read: "Mr. Obama, learn from this."

The hostage crisis began Nov. 4, 1979, when the U.S. embassy was seized in Tehran. One hostage was freed because of illness after the rescue attempt, and the other 52 were released after 444 days in captivity. The U.S. and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since Iran's 1979 revolution.

The Eagle Claw mission was first aborted after mechanical problems disabled two of eight U.S. Navy and Marine Corps helicopters and a third turned back in the face of a dust storm. The five remaining helicopters were one short of the minimum needed to continue.

But the operation turned into a disaster when one helicopter tried to leave a desolate rendezvous spot in Iran in a cloud of dust and crashed into a parked C-130 cargo plane loaded with 44 Delta troops.

Iran has built a "Mosque of Thanks" at the site, and plans to build a museum to display the crashed aircraft's wreckage.