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Iran Hostage Crisis Continues To Cast Shadows Over U.S.-Iran Relations 40 Years Later


Forty years ago today, protesters seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, launching a hostage crisis that went on and on.


JIMMY CARTER: We continue to face a grave situation in Iran, where our embassy has been seized. And more than 60 American citizens continue to be held as hostages in an attempt to force unacceptable demands on our country.

KELLY: Then-President Jimmy Carter speaking about the ordeal that ended only after 444 days.

Assal Rad is a research fellow at the nonpartisan National Iranian American Council. She says the hostage crisis continues to cast a shadow over U.S.-Iran relations, which seem to keep getting worse and worse.

ASSAL RAD: It's something that is invoked by somebody who is against, for instance, having the nuclear deal or having any kind of relations in place. It's something that always comes up because for the United States, of course, it was a crisis. It was a trauma, and rightfully so when you have international law and the breaking of sort of diplomatic decorum. It's a really important event that took place from the U.S. perspective. But there is still an Iranian perspective that we must also acknowledge that goes back prior to 1979, and understanding why that takes place.

KELLY: Let's go there and why this moment became so pivotal from the Iranian perspective.

RAD: It stems back to the U.S.-led coup of 1953, something that it took about 50 years until the United States sort of admitted and openly talked about its role in the 1953 coup that ousted Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and reinstated the shah, who was an authoritarian king.

And so the fear was that the shah would be reinstated again by the United States, and this would occur through the embassy, as it had in 1953. The seizure came two weeks after the shah was actually admitted into the United States for medical treatment. So there is sort of a direct connection in the views of Iranians who took the embassy, which was out of fear of a second coup.

KELLY: I wonder for you, as someone born in America but to Iranian parents who came here after the revolution, how did you come to understand the hostage crisis and what it meant?

RAD: As an Iranian American, it's challenging because you feel like this heritage that you have, this country of heritage is somewhat vilified. And it creates a challenge for your own ability to assimilate and be considered really an American.

KELLY: Do younger Iranians - those who, like you, were born after 1979 - do they feel towards America the same that their parents or grandparents did back around the time of the hostage crisis?

RAD: I would speak of both generations and say that their animosity was towards U.S. policy, not Americans. In terms of generational shift, I think the shift is a reflection of a generation that wants to move forward, rather than look backward. Right now, the majority of the Iranian population was born after 1979, was born after the revolution. And for them, these historical grievances are more important when they are relevant to the contemporary situation.

So, for instance, you know, they're more concerned about the United States pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA, than they are about actions that took place decades ago. I would certainly say there is a generational shift, and one of their aspirations is to have Iran not be isolated, come into the international fold. And, of course, that means better relations with the United States.

KELLY: Thank you very much for your time.

RAD: Thank you.

KELLY: That's Assal Rad of the National Iranian American Council talking on this 40th anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.