HistoryFrom the Stars and Stripes archives
Chronology of a crisis
Stars and Stripes January 22, 1981
Here is a chronolopgical account of key developments surrounding the Americans' captivity in Iran.
Day 1, Nov. 4, 1979 — An estimated 300 militant Moslems seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran taking 98 hostages. They demanded the return of deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The U.S. refused.
The embassy staff held out behind the steel doors of the embassy for three hours before being taken hostage. Their pleas for help were ignored by Iranian officials, despite prior assurances from Iran that the embassy would be protected.
Day 2, Nov. 5 — Religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini publicly endorsed the takeover of the U.S. Embassy as Moslem militants seized U.S. consulates in two Iranian cities and ransacked the Iran-American Society cultural center in Isfahan.
Khomeini followers also seized the British Embassy in Tehran, claiming Britain is America's "evil" ally. They gave it up hours later.
Day 3, Nov. 6 — Iranian Premier Mehdi Bazargan and his cabinet resigned in an apparent protest of Khomeini's endorsement of the embassy takeover.
Also on Nov. 6, the Moslem militants holding the U.S. Embassy threatened to kill their hostages if the U.S. tried an Entebbe-style rescue, patterned on the successful 1976 Israeli mission to free hostages in Uganda. It was an Iranian threat repeated many times during the Americans' captivity.
Carter convened the National Security Council in Washington to discuss the situation.
And two U.S. government envoys left for Iran in an attempt to mediate the release of the American hostages. Khomeini refused to let them meet with Iranian officials.
Day 5, Nov. 8 — The militants at the U.S. Embassy claimed documents found in the embassy prove the American diplomatic personnel were part of an "espionage unit."
Day 6, Nov. 9 — The United Nations Security Council called on the militants to release the hostages.
American hostages were blindfolded and paraded around the embassy to the jeers of thousands of Iranian demonstrators.
But when Iranian students in the U.S. took to the streets to support the embassy takeover, they were confronted by angry and frustrated Americans.
A wave of patriotism began sweeping the country. "Not since Pearl Harbor," President Carter said, "have we felt such a nationwide surge of determination and mutual purpose."
Day 9, Nov. 12 — President Carter ordered a halt to oil purchases from Iran, beating the Iranian government to the punch. The move turned out to have little effect on U.S. oil supplies, as Iran's oil production fell to a fraction of what it was under the shah.
Day 11, Nov. 14 — Carter froze $8 billion in Iranian assets in U.S. banks, heading off an attempt by Iran to withdraw the money. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance headed off a Security Council debate on Iranian complaints.
Day 12, Nov. 15 — President Carter accused the Iranian government of encouraging "terrorism" by condoning the actions of the militants holding the 63 American hostages.
Also on Day 12, the militants released one hostage, an Italian cook. All non-American embassy employees are eventually released, reducing the hostages to 66.
Day 14, Nov. 17 — Khomeini ordered the militants to release all women and black hostages if they are absolved of "espionage."
Day 16-17, Nov. 19-20 — Thirteen hostages, five women and eight black men, are released in an apparent attempt by the militants to divide U.S. public opinion.
Day 17, Nov. 20 — The Pentagon ordered the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and five other U.S. warships to proceed to the Indian Ocean near Iran.
Day 18, Nov. 21 — Radical Moslems seized Islam's holiest shrine, the Mosque at Mecca. Iranian radio blamed the U.S., inciting angry Moslems in Pakistan to burn the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. Two Marines guarding the embassy were killed.
Day 20, Nov. 23 — President Carter warned Khomeini of "extremely grave" U.S. retaliation if a single U.S. hostage is harmed.
Day 24, Nov. 27 — Moslem militants, fearing a U.S. rescue attempt, said they've mined the US. Embassy.
Day 26, Nov. 29 — The United States asked the International Court of Justice at The Hague for a ruling against Iran.
Day 28, Dec. 1 — The militants holding American hostages in Tehran said one of their hostages, William Daugherty, has confessed to being a CIA agent. They vowed to put him on trial as a spy.
Day 32, Dec. 5 — The militants holding 53 Americans in Tehran rejected a unanimous U.N. Security Council appeal for the immediate release of the hostages.
Day 37, Dec. 10 — The International Court of Justice heard U.S. complaints against Iran. Iranian leaders boycotted the session.
Day 39, Dec. 12 — The U.S. State Department ordered the expulsion of 183 Iranian diplomats.
Day 40, Dec. 13 — NATO foreign ministers formally denounced Iran's takeover of the U.S. Embassy.
Day 42, Dec. 15 — The shah flew to temporary exile in Panama.
Day 48, Dec. 21 — Carter said the United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to impose economic sanctions against Iran.
Day 52, Dec. 25 — Prayer vigils and candlelight services were held in Washington and throughout the nation as the 53 hostages entered their third month in captivity.
Three U.S. clergymen conducted Christmas services for the hostages.
Day 54, Dec. 27 — Soviet troops poured into neighboring Afghanistan, killed President Hafizullab Amin and installed a puppet ruler.
Day 58, Dec. 31 — The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution calling on Iran to free the hostages by Jan. 7 or face possible sanctions.
Day 69, Jan. 11, 1980 — Iran said a U.S. attempt to block Iranian shipping routes would mean war. Iran later threatened to stop all Persian Gulf shipping if the U.S. mines Iran's ports.
Day 71, Jan. 13 — The U.N. Security Council voted 10-2 to impose economic sanctions against Iran for its refusal to release the American hostages. But the measure was vetoed by the Soviet Union.
Day 73, Jan. 15 — Iran, claiming "biased and distorted coverage," ordered all U.S. news correspondents to leave the country by midnight.
Day 74, Jan. 16 — A group of Iranian army officers attempted to overthrow Khomeini, but were caught and later executed.
Day 81, Jan. 23 — The 79-year-old Khomeini was taken to a Tehran hospital after suffering a heart attack.
Day 83, Jan. 25 — Iranians overwhelmingly elected Abolhassan Bani-Sadr as their first president under their new Islamic constitution. Bani-Sadr, a moderate, said he believed the hostage crisis could be resolved quickly.
Day 87, Jan. 29 — It was disclosed that the Canadian Embassy in Tehran spirited six Americans out of Iran, sparking pro-Canadian demonstrations in the US. and screams of protest from Iran.
Day 95, Feb. 6 — Iranian President Bani-Sadr angrily denounced the Moslem militants holding the U.S. hostages as "dictators who have created a government within a government."
Day 96, Feb. 7 — Bani-Sadr formally took over as head of the Revolutionary Council, making him the number two man in authority. He again assailed the embassy militants, calling them "rebels against the government."
Day 100, Feb. 11 — Bani-Sadr was quoted by a French newspaper as saying the Iranian government no longer demanded the return of the shah in exchange for the release of the hostages.
Day 116, Feb. 27 — Ayatollah Beheshti, first secretary of the Revolutionary Council, said Iran's new parliament will not be ready to decide on the hostages before May.
Day 124, March 6 — Islamic militants, under increasing criticism from Bani-Sadr, agreed to turn over their hostages to the Revolutionary Council. The development appeared d to signal a breakthrough.
Day 126, March 8 — In a dispute with the Bani-Sadr government, the militants changed their minds and reused to give u control of the hostages.
Day 131, March 13 — Doctors in Panama said the shah had an enlarged spleen and needed another operation.
Day 141, March 23 — The shah left Panama for Egypt, a move that Iran claimed was made to avoid extradition proceedings. A spokesman for the shah said the move was made for medical reasons. It was later revealed that the shah felt his life was in danger in Panama.
Day 156, April 7 — Carter expelled the remaining Iranian diplomats from the U.S. in retaliation for Iran's refusal to release the American hostages.
Day 159, April 10 — The nine nations of the European Common Market issued a "demand" for Iran to release the American hostages, but stopped short of joining the United States in economic sanctions.
Day 160, April 11 — Militants threatened to kill their American hostages if Iran is attacked by Iraq — a bitter enemy of the U.S. It was a threat that made Carter reassess the rescue option.
Day 166, April 17 — Carter imposed additional economic sanctions against Iran and indicated the next step might be military action.
Day 174, April 25 — An aborted effort to rescue the American hostages ended in tragedy when two US. military aircraft collided at a desert airstrip in Iran and burst into flames, killing eight U.S. servicemen.
Day 175, April 26 — Iranian militants dispersed their hostages to various locations in Tehran, and announced plans to move them to different cities to discourage another U.S. rescue attempt.
Day 177, April 28 — Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance resigned in protest of the U.S. rescue mission. Sen. Edmund Muskie was later picked by Carter to replace Vance.
Day 188, May 9 — Iranians completed their election of a clergy-dominated parliament that Khomeini said would be empowered to decide the fate of the American hostages.
Day 203, May 24 — The International Court of Justice unanimously ordered Iran to release the American hostages. In a split decision, the court ordered Iran to pay damages to the U.S. for the crises.
Day 250, July 10 — Khomeini, on the advice of Iranian doctors, ordered the release of US. State Department official Richard Queen for medical reasons. Doctors at the U.S. Air Force hospital in Wiesbaden later diagnosed Queen's ailment as multiple sclerosis.
Day 267, July 27 — The shah died in Cairo. U.S. officials expressed doubt that his death would lead to a speedy release of the hostages.
Day 269, July 29 — After a state funeral shunned by most world leaders, the shah was buried in a Cairo mosque.
Day 314, Sept. 12 — Khomeini listed his conditions for release of the U.S. hostages. Missing from his list was an earlier demand that the United States apologize for supporting the shah.
Hopes soared when Iranian leaders begin sending signals that the U.S. had already met most of the conditions.
Day 316, Sept. 14 — The Iranian Parliament voted to open debate on the fate of the American hostages.
Day 319, Sept. 17 — Iraq abrogated its 1975 border treaty with Iran, as border skirmishes between the two nations heated up.
Day 324, Sept. 22 — Iraq and Iran border hostilities became a full-scale war, as Iraqi troops invaded Iran along a 300-mile front.
Day 350, Oct. 18 — Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Rajai, in New York seeking U.N. condemnation of Iraq, told reporters he believed the U.S. has "in practice" apologized for its support of the shah and that a decision on the hostages "is not far away."
Day 365, Nov. 2 — Iran's Parliament spent four hours in secret debate on the 52 American hostages. An attempt by hardliners to link the hostage issue to the Iran-Iraq war threatened to complicate the issue.
Day 366, Nov. 3 — Militants who have held U.S. hostages for the past year announced that they will hand over the Americans to the Iranian government and will join fighting against Iraq.
Day 367, Nov. 4 — The 53 American hostages, including a free-lance journalist arrested by Iranian revolutionary guards, began their second year in captivity as Americans went to the polls to elect a president.
Day 368, Nov. 5 — Iran rejected the United State's first response to its conditions for release of the hostages, saying "some provisions (of the U.S. reply) are contrary to the resolution approved by the Majlis (Parliament.)"
Day 372, Nov. 9 — A spokesman for Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Rajai revealed that the government had not taken control of the American hostages.
Day 376, Nov. 13 — Iranian diplomats said their government was beginning a detailed study of a U.S. response to conditions for release of the hostages, but they said 'the document does not seem to be very positive."
Day 382, Nov. 19 — The U.S. has agreed in principle to Iran's four conditions for releasing the hostages, but until Washington implements them, the hostages will not be freed, the leader of the Iranian Parliament said. Secretary of State Edmund Muskie later confirmed that the conditions had been accepted in principle.
Day 401, Dec. 8 — Iran said the United States' latest response to the Iranian conditions for the release of the hostages was "much clearer" and "much closer to a solution" than previous answers.
Day 404, Dec. 11 — A top Iranian official said his country will not accept a U.S. proposal to allow U.S. courts to decide whether the late shah's wealth belongs to Iran or the shah's heirs — the main stumbling block to release of the hostages.
Day 410, Dec. 17 — Anti-clergy rioters tore up pictures of Khomeini and clashed with members of the Revolutionary Guards. Signs of instability in the Iranian government caused U.S. officials to fear that hostage talks could be delayed.
Day 414, Dec. 21 — Iran demanded that the U.S. government deposit $24 billion in Algeria's central bank in exchange for release of the hostages, a demand U.S. officials called "unreasonable" and "a ransom demand."
Day 421, Dec. 28 — Iranian mobs marched through the streets demanding that the Iranian government set a deadline for the U.S. to meet its demands.
Day 424, Dec. 31 — Iran's main hostage negotiator said his government would accept a U.S. counterproposal to assure the return of Iran's wealth if it was acceptable to Algeria.
Day 431, Jan. 7 — A top Iranian official said Iran has generally accepted the latest still-secret proposals for resolving the 14-month old hostage crisis. But U.S. officials said important issues remained to be resolved.
Day 432, Jan. 8 — American negotiators gave Algeria another urgent message for Iran in a dramatic bid by the Carter administration to buy freedom for the hostages before Carter's term ended.
Day 435, Jan. 11 — Iran dropped its demand that the U.S. deposit $24 billion in Algeria's central bank, and instead asked for international guarantees that the shah's wealth would be returned. This was a major turning point in the standoff.
Day 436, Jan. 12 — The Iranian Parliament met in secret session. to consider proposals to end the Americans' 14-month captivity.
Day 438, Jan. 14 — Iran's parliament cleared a major hurdle in negotiations to free the hostages by accepting a plan for arbitration by a third party over its claim to the late shah's wealth. An Iranian hostage negotiator said the parliament wanted to end the matter "within the next two or three days."
Day 442, Jan. 18 — Iran's top negotiator told an Iranian newspaper that an agreement had been reached to release the hostages, but State Department officials in Washington said they were awaiting official word from Algeria.
Day 443, Jan. 19 — Legal documents ending the 14. months of captivity were signed by Iranian officials, paving the way for the 52 American hostages to leave Tehran.
Day 444, Jan. 20 — America's 52 hostages walked a gauntlet of hostile Iranians, boarded two Algerian passenger jets, and left Tehran about 30 minutes after Ronald Reagan became the 40th president of the United States.
Twelve hours later, after stops in Athens and Algiers, they were welcomed by thousands of Americans at Rhein-Main Air Base. greeted with cheers and a chorus of "God Bless America."
The hostages and those greeting them had tears in their eyes, as the 14-month ordeal finally came to an end.