The hostages were released essentially unharmed by the Iranians when they no longer served any internal political function. Once the Iranian revolutionary government had stabilized, the hostages were allowed to leave, although there may have been some other political factors involved in releasing them only a few minutes after Carter was no longer officially the president of the United States.
After the inauguration, a Secret Service agent pushed through the crowd at the U.S. Capitol to tell former president Jimmy Carter that at 12:33 p.m. the first plane carrying the hostages had taken off from Tehran, and the second one had left nine minutes later. President Ronald Reagan got the word at an inaugural luncheon. It was the first official announcement he would make to the American people. The hostages, on the 444th day of their captivity, were set free. The republic rejoiced!
The crisis dominated the headlines and news broadcasts and made the Administration look weak and ineffectual. Although patient diplomacy conducted by Deputy Secretary Warren Christopher eventually resolved the crisis, Carter’s foreign policy team often seemed weak and vacillating.
After exhausting all diplomatic channels to achieve the release of the 53 Americans held hostage in Iran for over six months, President Carter undertook a dramatic military rescue attempt in April 1980. Carter's action was not only completely contrary to his explicit commitment to human rights and seeking nonmilitary solutions to foreign policy crises in world politics, but it was a highly risky prospect from a military standpoint as well.
President Carter felt the plight of the hostages deeply, and considered their safe return his personal responsibility. On November 11, he embargoed Iranian oil. On the 17th, Khomeini announced that female, African American, and non-U.S. citizen hostages would be released, because women and minorities already suffered "the oppression of American society." Fifty-three Americans (including two women, Elizabeth Ann Swift and Kathryn Koob, and one African American, Charles Jones) remained as hostages.
After the Iranian take- over of the American embassy and seizure of American hostages on No-
vember 4, 1979, Carter's standing in the polls shot up dramatically. Even in late December, almost two months after the embassy takeover, the na- tionwide level of approval of his handling of the situation stood at 69 per- cent. As the situation wore on, however, support for the President began to erode
On November 4, 1979, an angry mob of young Islamic revolutionaries overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking more than 60 Americans hostage. "From the moment the hostages were seized until they were released minutes after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as president 444 days later," wrote historian Gaddis Smith, "the crisis absorbed more concentrated effort by American officials and had more extensive coverage on television and in the press than any other event since World War II."
The Shah was losing status in his own country and the United States wondered how long it could support such an unpopular leader. Starting in 1978, there were demonstrations month after month against the Shah.7 In 1979 the Shah was overthrown by mass demonstrations inspired by the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini, a charismatic Shia Muslim religious scholar who preached a conservative (later called fundamentalist) variant of Islam and built support in part by stroking Iranian resentment against U.S. support for the Shah’s regime
Early in the 1960s, the Shah announced social and economic reforms but refused to grant broad political freedom. Iranian nationalists condemned his U.S. supported regime and his "westernizing" of Iran. During rioting in 1963, the Shah cracked down, suppressing his opposition. Among those arrested and exiled was a popular religious nationalist and bitter foe of the United States, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, began his reign in 1941, succeeding his father, Reza Khan, to the throne. In a 1953 power struggle with his prime minister, the Shah gained American support to prevent nationalization of Iran's oil industry. In return for assuring the U.S. a steady supply of oil, the Shah received economic and military aid from eight American presidents.