Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Jimmy Carter. It is one of two which document U.S. policy toward Iran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979–1981. This volume ends in September 1980. A subsequent volume, Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XI, Part 2, Iran: Hostage Crisis, September 1980-January 1981, will cover the Algiers Accords of January 1981 and the release of the hostages.

For the immediate period leading up to the hostage crisis, readers should consult Foreign Relations, Volume X, Iran: Revolution, January 1977-November 1979 upon its publication. Two volumes on oil and energy topics are also of importance for understanding the global and economic aspects of the crisis: Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974 and Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XXXVII, Energy Crisis, 1974–1980. This volume provides documentation on the U.S. strategic response to the Iranian Revolution in the Persian Gulf and Middle East in general. For documentation on the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XVIII, Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XI, Part 1

The focus of this volume is on U.S. efforts to resolve the U.S.-Iranian crisis over the hostage taking. Members of the Carter administration met almost daily for the first several months of the crisis, mostly as the Special Coordination Committee, and less often in the form of the Policy Review Committee or as the National Security Council. Additionally, the Department of State prepared “Sitreps” and “Updates” on a daily basis to keep track of a crisis that grew in complexity. One of the demands of this volume was to sift through the voluminous material and separate out those events, people, and decisions that truly moved the crisis from stage to stage. Additionally, there were Iranian domestic developments stemming from the Iranian Revolution that impacted the crisis. In the absence of direct diplomatic communications between the United States and Iran, the role of a number of official and unofficial intermediaries in resolving the crisis is documented. While the volume’s principal focus is on Washington policymaking, an effort was made wherever possible to keep the focus on the hostages [Page X]themselves. The former Shah of Iran is also an important element in the volume. Until his death in July 1980, his movements in exile provoked Iran into continued efforts to obtain his extradition and his alleged fortune. Another, and not insubstantial focus of the volume, is on policy discussions within the administration concerning rescue efforts.

The volume can be divided into three main sequences: the initial embassy takeover and response by the Carter administration, efforts to negotiate with Iran through various intermediaries, and the resort to military force in the attempted rescue mission and its fallout. These developments took place against the backdrop of one of the twentieth century’s most significant revolutions, the scale and historical background of which confounded U.S. policymakers who nevertheless made tremendous efforts to understand. Their frustrations with the situation are all too obvious.

Several themes are apparent by volume’s end. First, the Carter administration, for all its effort, lacked appropriate leverage to influence Iranian developments. The hostages were held in the heart of a major city by non-governmental actors. Communication with members of the Iranian Government, therefore, was of little avail. Military power was also judged to be proven ineffective. The fact that the whereabouts of all of the hostages was unknown limited planning options. Moreover, the lack of an institutional structure for effective inter-service coordination of special operations activities hindered the execution of the rescue attempt. Other military actions were considered, but were deemed too risky in the context of Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union. Economic sanctions were hampered by a lack of international support. Furthermore, Iran itself was relatively economically insulated from dependence on foreign supplies.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Carter Library, Atlanta, Georgia. Special thanks are due to Mark Ellcessor and David Robarge of the History Staff of the Center for the Study of Intelligence of the Central Intelligence Agency, who were extremely helpful in arranging full access to the files of the Central Intelligence Agency. Douglas Richards and Mike Johnson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were likewise extremely helpful in expediting access to the records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Delta Force papers held by the JCS relating to the hostage rescue mission. The Office of the Historian wishes to thank Greg Perett of the Office of Information Programs and Services for coordinating the declassification review of this volume within the Department of State. Additional thanks are due to the Historical Programs Staff at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of Access Management at the National Security Council, and the Govern[Page XI]ment of Switzerland for assisting with the declassification of this volume.

Linda Qaimmaqami collected documentation for this volume and selected and edited it, under the supervision of Edward C. Keefer, then General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. Chris Morrison assumed responsibility for resolving issues of compilation and review during the final stages of production. Kerry Hite coordinated the interagency declassification review, with the assistance of Chris Tudda and Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Division. Heather McDaniel, Kerry Hite, and Rita M. Baker performed the technical and copy editing under the supervision of Mandy A. Chalou, Chief of the Editing and Publishing Division.

Linda Qaimmaqami