The students seized 66 hostages, of whom 52 were held for 444 days before being released shortly after Ronald Reagan concluded his inaugural address as the new President of the USA.
The origins of the crisis lay in the declining relationship between the USA and Iran under the rule of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi. The American CIA along with MI6 from Britain had orchestrated a coup to install the Shah as ruler of Iran in order to protect their oil interests in the region. Although this was successful, many Iranians opposed the Shah’s repressive rule and found a leader in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini under whose guidance the Shah was overthrown in July 1979.
Three months later, on the 22nd October, the Shah was granted entry to the US to access treatment for lymphoma. Although President Carter eventually granted entry on humanitarian grounds, the political repercussions were huge. Khomeini stirred up anti-American feeling by referring to the USA as the ‘Great Satan’ and hinting that the CIA was plotting another coup to return the Shah to power.
Shortly after the Shah landed in New York on the 4th November, a student demonstration outside the gates of the American Embassy in Tehran stormed the building. 66 hostages were taken, of which only 14 were released before the end of the crisis. The remaining hostages were not freed until the 21st January 1981.