Iran Hostage Crisis 40th Anniversary Panel Discussion | Wilson Center
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Iran Hostage Crisis 40th Anniversary Panel Discussion

Webcast available

Webcast Recap

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.”




  • Haleh Esfandiari

    Public Policy Fellow
    Former Director, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson Center


  • Bruce Riedel

    Senior Fellow and Director, Brookings Intelligence Project, Brookings Institution; Author, Kings and Presidents: Saudi Arabia and the United States since FDR
  • Suzanne Maloney

    Deputy Director, Foreign Policy Program, Brookings Institution and Senior Fellow, Brookings Center for Middle East Policy
  • Malcolm Byrne

    Deputy Director, Director of Research at the National Security Archive