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Iran Hostage Crisis 40th Anniversary Panel Discussion

A panel discussion on the 40th anniversary of the Iran Hostage Crisis.

Date & Time

Oct. 31, 2019
10:30am – 12:00pm ET


5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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Iran Hostage Crisis 40th Anniversary Panel Discussion

On November 4, 1979, a crowd of Iranian students charged into the US embassy in Tehran and took hostage 52 American diplomats and citizens. The resulting diplomatic standoff would last 444 days. Now, 40 years later, the Iran Hostage Crisis continues to loom as one of the defining moments in US-Iran relations. To mark the anniversary of this crucial event, a panel of US-Iran relations experts discussed how the Crisis is viewed today and how it continues to play a role in US foreign policy.

Selected Quotes

Bruce Riedel:

“Demonization of Iran became easy. First of all, the Iranians did a lot of things that were wrong, like keeping American diplomats hostage for 444 days was a clear violation of international rules and behaviors. But the crisis, and the atmosphere and the politics surrounding it, and the incessant reporting on television every night that was going on reinforced all of that.”

“The hostage taking created a wave of unambiguity. Iran was no longer a mysterious force; it was an evil force. It was almost unanimous anger and frustration vented against Iranians.

“In the 1980s the Americans may not have understood what an Ayatollah was, but they certainly understood what a communist was. And they certainly understood that the Russians would be supporting any communist party.”

Suzanne Maloney:

“In Iran, among Iranians, at least among those within the system, the hostage crisis is often described as a second revolution and I think if anything that’s an understatement. I think it’s important to realize how the revolution transpired; the way it was perceived in Iran as well as from a distance here in Washington.”

“It was primarily Ayatollah Khomeini during the run up to the revolution, during the mobilization on the streets, which was highly correlated and orchestrated. It was Khomeini who was determined from the outset to make this a revolution rather than a project to reign in or impose reforms on the monarchy, and it was Khomeini who drove that train as Mehdi Bazargan once described it, he was not the driver of the train, but Ayatollah Khomeini was.”

Malcolm Byrne:

“On both sides there has been a string of attempts to reach out and that suggests that what’s required for something, an improvement, to take place is the discovery of mutual need.”

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History and Public Policy Program

The History and Public Policy Program strives to make public the primary source record of 20th and 21st century international history from repositories around the world, to facilitate scholarship based on those records, and to use these materials to provide context for classroom, public, and policy debates on global affairs.  Read more

Cold War International History Project

The Cold War International History Project supports the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War. Through an award winning Digital Archive, the Project allows scholars, journalists, students, and the interested public to reassess the Cold War and its many contemporary legacies. It is part of the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program.  Read more

Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more

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