Tensions remain high between the Iran and US governments. On January 8, 2020, two American bases in Iraq were attacked by the Iranian military. This was inspired by the US army drone airstrike on a Baghdad airport that caused the death of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani. Iranian-American organizations and citizens are caught between these political powers as the world waits and watches for what will happen next.
This strained relationship widely affects individuals who come from both Western and Middle Eastern heritages. Foreign nationals, many of whom have dual citizenships, are still being detained in the Islamic republic as a result of accusations about crimes against the government. Ever since American and Iranian relations became tense around 40 years ago, political prisoners have been used to gain an advantage in diplomatic talks. Here’s a look at the first hostage-taking incident that involved US diplomats.
The 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis
On November 4, 1979, the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line launched an attack on the US embassy in Tehran, an event that is now known as the Iran hostage crisis. The group, composed of different students, took over the embassy and held 52 diplomats. They were detained for a total of 444 days. Attempts to rescue them by military forces fell through. Finally, the US government negotiated the release of the captives with the Algiers Accords, and the people were set free in January 1981. But, even after the ordeal, Iranian-US relations remained strained.
The Situation Today
Decades after the 1979 crisis, hostage-taking remains a prevalent problem. More than 20 US citizens have been captured and released over the past 40 years by the Tehranian government. Before former President Barack Obama stepped down, negotiations for American captives had transpired. During his term, negotiators managed to make a deal with Iran to release 5 people.
To date, several individuals are being held captive by the Iranian government, many of which are of dual nationalities. Of these, at least 5 are from the US. One of them is a man named Robert Levinson, a former Drug Enforcement Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation agent. He was taken from his hotel in Kish, Iran, in March 2007. Although there has been no news of his status since 2011, he’s believed to still be alive, making his case the longest hostage situation in all of US history.
The most recent instance of detainment involves US Navy Veteran Michael White. He was imprisoned in Iran in July 2018, more than a year into the Trump administration. Talks are still ongoing to lobby for his release.
Aside from Americans, other foreign nationals have also been detained. They’re citizens or permanent residents of the following countries:
- Great Britain
- The Netherlands
With ties between Iran and America officially cut in 1980, it’s possible that the current Iranian administration will resort to further hostage-taking as a political strategy. The US government under Trump still struggles to stop the detainments. They’ve tried everything from cash payments to military airstrikes. But, they’ve yet to better the state of their relationship with Iran and set the remaining captives free.
These events still deeply impact the Iranian-American culture today. But, even though some issues remain unresolved between these two countries, there’s hope that continuous action toward their resolution will yield positive results. Contact the Organization of Iranian-American Communities to find out what you can do to support efforts for peace.