TEHRAN, Iran - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marked the 27th anniversary of the failed U.S. operation to rescue 53 American hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by saying God and Iran had "clobbered the enemy," state radio reported yesterday.
Although the anniversary is not a national holiday or celebrated by most Iranians, the government annually marks Operation Eagle Claw, which ended in a helicopter crash that killed eight U.S. servicemen.
"On such a day, the enemy, using the most advanced weapons, invaded this land," the radio quoted Ahmadinejad as saying during a cabinet meeting in Tehran. "But heavenly aides supported the Iranian nation and clobbered the enemy in the desert."
As in past years, hundreds of mostly hard-line Iranians gathered to protest U.S. foreign policy about 370 miles southeast of Tehran at the site where the U.S. helicopter crashed into a plane after the rescue mission was aborted.
The hostage crisis began Nov. 4, 1979, when the U.S. Embassy was seized in Tehran. One hostage was freed because of illness after the rescue attempt, and the 52 others were released as Ronald Reagan was being inaugurated in 1981.
The Eagle Claw mission was first aborted after mechanical problems disabled two of eight U.S. Navy and Marine Corps helicopters and a third turned back in the face of a dust storm. The five remaining helicopters were one short of the minimum needed to continue.
But the operation turned from a failure into a fiery disaster when one helicopter tried to leave Desert One, a desolate rendezvous spot in Iran, in a cloud of dust but crashed into a parked C-130 cargo plane loaded with 44 troops.
Senior Iranian and Western envoys signaled yesterday in Ankara, Turkey, that they might have made progress in trying to break a deadlock over Tehran's defiance of a U.N. demand to suspend uranium enrichment, saying they planned to meet again in two weeks.
While the two officials did not reveal details of their meetings, an official based in a European capital said the two touched on having discussions of what would constitute a suspension. A more flexible definition of a freeze acceptable to both sides is "the key issue," said the official.
There was mention of a "double time out" - a simultaneous freeze of Iranian nuclear steps in exchange for a U.N. commitment not to impose new sanctions, said the official.