On this day in 1977, President Jimmy Carter welcomes Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, and his wife, Empress (or “Shahbanou”) Farrah, to Washington. Over the next two days, Carter and Pahlavi discussed improving relations between the two countries. Two years later, the two leaders’ political fates would be further entwined when Islamic fundamentalists overthrew the shah and took Americans hostage in Tehran.
In 1977, however, the U.S. and Iran enjoyed a friendly diplomatic relationship. Carter and Pahlavi’s official discussions centered on peace prospects for the Middle East as well as ways to combat the energy crisis that had hit the U.S. and other Western nations in the early 1970s. At the time, Carter hoped to enlist Iran’s help in reconvening peace talks between Israel and Egypt and to secure Iran’s help in supporting nuclear non-proliferation talks with the Soviet Union. At a press conference that day, Carter and Pahlavi affirmed their desire to collaborate on alternative energy production and oil conservation. That evening, the Carters hosted a state dinner for the shah and his wife. The visit also included casual moments spent with the Carter family, during which the empress was photographed holding and cooing over the Carters’ grandson, Jimmy.
The visit ended on a positive note and, the next month, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter traveled to Tehran, where Carter toasted the shah as “an island of stability” in the Middle East. That stability was rocked when Pahlavi was deposed by Islamic fundamentalists in January 1979 and replaced by a regime led by Ayatollah Khomeini. In October, the exiled shah came to the United States for cancer treatment. Carter’s hospitality toward the shah enraged a group of radical Iranian students, who stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, and took 66 Americans hostage. The hostage crisis lasted 444 days and Carter’s inability to secure their release contributed to his defeat by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election.