Mitt Romney says the Iranians released hostages in 1981 because they feared Ronald Reagan's approach to foreign policy.
This is the way i remembered it! But the right will see it a different way, for some reason the Republicans have rewritten history on this matter.
First, a reminder of what the hostage crisis was all about. In 1979,
the Shah of Iran -- who had been installed and supported by successive
United States administrations -- was overthrown by Islamic
revolutionaries. Militants took over the American embassy and held
hostages from Nov. 4, 1979, until Jan. 20, 1981 -- the day President
Jimmy Carter passed the reins to Reagan, who had defeated him amid
widespread public disapproval of the incumbent’s handling of the crisis.
"Iran contacted the Carter administration in September 1980 with a
proposal to end the hostage crisis," said Gary Sick, a Columbia
University professor who has written two books about the Iran hostage
crisis. "The U.S. made a proposal. Iran responded with an unacceptable
offer just a day or two before the election. Afterwards, they nominated
the Algerians to act as intermediaries. Those valuable discussions went
on until literally the day or two before the inauguration, and they were
settled by the Iranians caving in on a number of issues that were
extremely costly to them. By my calculations, the Iranians ended up
paying about $300,000 per hostage per day of incarceration."
The agreement that led to the release, as described by the New York Times
11 days after it occured, revolved around $11 billion to $12 billion in
Iranian assets that Carter had frozen 10 days after the seizure of the
U.S. embassy. It had been negotiated over the course of several months
before Reagan's inauguration.
The Times, in its account of the inauguration, reported that
"no one on the speaker's stand knew of the latest developments in Iran.
Word quickly spread among the governors, Congressmen and Reagan friends,
family and aides as they left the platform."
Carter informed Reagan at 8:31 a.m. that the release of the hostages
was imminent, "but the onetime bitter rivals for the presidency told
reporters as they entered the speaker's area separately, to the flourish
of trumpets, that the hostages had not yet taken off from Tehran. The
President got his first chance to announce the news at 2:15 p.m. at a
luncheon with Congressional leaders in Statuary Hall in the Capitol."
So Reagan, not Carter, got to bask in the glow of the hostages’ safe
return. However, we contacted seven scholars of the period, and their
consensus was that neither Reagan nor his philosophy played any
significant role in freeing the hostages.
"Well before Reagan became president, the deal for releasing the
hostages had already been worked out by the Carter administration's
State Department and the Iranians, ably assisted by Algerian diplomats,"
said David Farber, a Temple University historian and author of Taken Hostage: The Iranian Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with Radical Islam.
"No Reagan administration officials participated in the successful
negotiations," Farber added. "The Iranian government waited to
officially release the Americans until Carter had left the presidency as
a final insult to Carter, whom they despised. They believed Carter had
betrayed the Iranian revolution by allowing the self-exiled Shah to
receive medical attention in the United States and then had threatened
their new government by attempting, unsuccessfully, to use military
force in April 1980 to free the hostages."
"By doing this, Iran thought they were showing the world that they
could meddle in our affairs, just as we had done to them in 1953," added
Dave Houghton, a political scientist at the University of Central
Florida and author of U.S. Foreign Policy and the Iran Hostage Crisis.
Houghton suggested that Iran had a relatively unsophisticated grasp of
U.S. politics, and said he thinks it’s possible that the Iranians
"didn’t even know what Reagan had said on the campaign trail."
"I don't think they were scared into the release," Houghton said. "In
all likelihood, they released the hostages because they needed the
sanctions we'd placed on them lifted so they could finance their war
The one scholar who entertained the possibility that Iran was taking
heed of the future president’s philosophy was Michael Gunter, a
political scientist at Tennessee Tech University and the author of
several papers about the crisis. Still, Gunter added, the "main reason
for the release" was that "the mileage the Iranians had gained by
holding the hostages had been used for everything it was worth and there
was no further advantage in continuing."
Several other experts agreed that the Iranians’ focus was on Carter, not Reagan.
"If it was related to the occupant of the White House, it certainly had
more to do with Carter than Reagan," said Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times reporter who now teaches at Boston University and authored the book, Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future.
"My guess is that the hostages would have been released even if someone
else had been inaugurated -- anyone but Carter. The Iranians had come
to hate Carter and didn't want to give him a triumph. Giving it to
someone else was fine with them."
Sick, the Columbia University professor, said that "those who wish to
believe that the final flurry of activity was out of fear of Reagan have
a right to their opinion. Those closer to the events believed that the
Iranians, who had clearly decided months earlier that the hostages were a
wasting asset, feared that they would have to start the whole laborious
process of negotiation over from scratch with a new administration,
which obviously had no great appeal."
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