Former Iran Hostages Recall US Embassy Takeover 30 Years Ago
By Jeffrey Young,
November 4 is the 30th anniversary of the siezure,
by young Iranian militants, of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Leading up to that
event, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had returned to Iran from exile in
France, leading an Islamic revolution that forced the Shah of Iran to flee.
Fifty-two of the US diplomats seized by the Iranians were held captive for more
than a year, most of them at the US embassy.
US diplomats held
captive by Iranian militants
On November 4, 1979,the United States embassy in Tehran was seized by militants
in the name of Iran's new leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. For the next 444
days, it was the scene of captivity for 49 Americans, including embassy Press
Attache Barry Rosen.
He describes how he was taken hostage. "One young man, looking rather ferocious
at that time, started to kick, to kick the door down," he says, "This person
said to me in a loud voice, in Farsi, "You are under arrest! You are a member of
the nest of spies! You are going to come with me!"
The Acting US Ambassador at the time, Bruce Laingen,
was also taken hostage. In hindsight, he says, the close U.S. relationship with
the Shah of Iran, widely unpopular, set the stage for what happened.
"If we had done things differently, you could come up with all kinds of
scenarios. But I believe myself that it was almost inevitable," Laingen said.
A celebration in Algiers on November 1st, where Iran's Prime Minister Mehdi
Bazargan was photographed meeting with U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew
Brzezinski, pushed the situation over the edge, according to Victor Tomseth, who
was a political officer at the embassy. "I'm convinced to this day that it was
that picture that was the catalyst for the student group that carried out the
attack on the embassy," Tomseth said.
The U.S. diplomats spent nearly 15 months confined in the embassy, the foreign
ministry and other Tehran locations.
In the U.S., Americans hung yellow ribbons to show solidarity, also putting
pressure on President Jimmy Carter to act.
Months later, the US mounted a rescue mission. A dust storm turned the operation
into a disaster, killing eight servicemen. The mission was aborted.
Barry Rosen says the U.S. made several mistakes, including not closing the
embassy after an earlier takeover attempt in February 1979. "We should have shut
down the embassy after February 14th. And said to the Iranians 'When you want us
back, we will be back,'" he states.
Bruce Laingen says decisionmakers in Washington
weren't paying attention to the detailed reports the embassy was providing about
the deteriorating situation in Iran.
Washington was paying attention to the Cold War and Moscow, according to Rosen.
"We are still worried about the Soviets. We had listening posts in the embassy.
That to the administration was more important than bilateral relations or the
bodies [the embassy personnel] that were in Tehran," Rosen said.
Bruce Laingen says he spoke with Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi late on November
4 about the situation. "I had a telephone conversation that night, of the first
day, when he told me 'Look. We will resolve this by morning.' And I said to him,
'OK, what am I going to do?' What are you going to do with me? And he said 'Why
don't you go down into the diplomatic reception rooms [at the Foreign Ministry]
and find a place to sleep there?" Laingen recalls.
It was a nap that lasted nearly 15 months. In November 1980, President Carter
lost his re-election bid. On January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as
President of the United States. On the same day, Bruce Laingen and 51 other
Americans were freed.
Some 30 years later, the United States and Iran are still at odds.
... Payvand News - 11/04/09 ... --