December 31, 1977 – Jimmy Carter Praises Iran As An Island of Stability

On this day in history, President Jimmy Carter, visiting the Shah of Iran in Tehran, made a speech to toast the Shah at a state dinner.

President Jimmy Carter and the shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, at a state dinner in Iran in 1977.

President Jimmy Carter and the shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, at a state dinner in Iran in 1977.

He said in part:

Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.

This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.”

The “island,” however, was in fact in turmoil. Opposition to the Shah was mounting, with the Shah increasingly relying on his notorious secret police, SAVAK, to crack down on dissent. Protesters began filling the streets, and on January 16, 1979, the Shah fled to Egypt. When the Shah found out he had cancer, he asked Carter for permission to come to the U.S. for treatment. Carter knew it would cause problems, but decided he could not refuse the Shah out of humanitarian considerations, and in October, 1979, he extended a public invitation to the Shah. He later said:

I was told that the Shah was desperately ill, at the point of death . . . I was told that New York was the only medical facility that was capable of possibly saving his life and reminded that the Iranian officials had promised to protect our people in Iran. When all the circumstances were described to me, I agreed.”

On November 4, 1979, an angry mob of young Islamic revolutionaries overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking more than 60 Americans hostage. The hostages were not released for 444 days, until Ronald Reagan took the oath of office. As The History Channel reports:

Iranian hostages

Iranian hostages

The immediate cause of this action was President Jimmy Carter’s decision to allow Iran’s deposed Shah, a pro-Western autocrat who had been expelled from his country some months before, to come to the United States for cancer treatment. However, the hostage-taking was about more than the Shah’s medical care: it was a dramatic way for the student revolutionaries to declare a break with Iran’s past and an end to American interference in its affairs. It was also a way to raise the intra- and international profile of the revolution’s leader, the anti-American cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.”

Portrait Of Ayatollah Khomeini taken in Paris, shortly before the 1979 revolution. Photograph: Denis Cameron/Rex Features

Portrait Of Ayatollah Khomeini taken in Paris, shortly before the 1979 revolution. Photograph: Denis Cameron/Rex Features

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