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A Fateful Decision That Led to the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis

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Demonstrators burn a U.S. flag as they stand atop the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 9, 1979, after storming the embassy and taking hostages. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Demonstrators burn a U.S. flag as they stand atop the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 9, 1979, after storming the embassy and taking hostages. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

The journalist David Kirkpatrick on how President Jimmy Carter was pressured into letting the Shah of Iran into the United States.

The American airstrike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani this month was precipitated in part by a Dec. 31 assault on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. For many Americans, scenes of protesters and militants trying to breach the walls of the embassy brought to mind the Iran hostage crisis of 1979.

This week on First Person, we look back at the decision President Jimmy Carter made in October 1979 to allow the deposed Shah of Iran into the United States for medical treatment. That decision prompted Iranian protesters to take over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and hold hostage 52 Americans for nearly 15 months.

David D. Kirkpatrick, a reporter for the New York Times, examined documents related to that decision by Carter for a recent story. He concluded that David Rockefeller, the chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank at the time, played a key role in drama.

Kirkpatrick is our guest this week.

About First Person:  Each week on First Person, we conduct a narrative-driven conversation with one person whose experience illuminates something timely and important about our world. Our guests tend to be people who have participated directly in events, either as protagonists or eyewitnesses. We get them to tell their story, not just offer analysis. First Person is hosted by FP deputy editor Sarah Wildman. Sarah is an award-winning journalist whose stories have appeared in the New York TimesSlate, Vox and the New Yorker online. She is the author of Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind.  See All Episodes

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