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January 19, 1981 – The last full day in the White House for Jimmy Carter. And it was spent on pins and needles, waiting for word on the pending hostage release from Tehran on this, their 443rd day of captivity since the odyssey began. With agreements signed and handshakes given, all that was left was word the 52 American hostages were safely on the plane, leaving Iranian airspace and heading home.
But even that was a nail-biter. Reports, conflicting reports – last word was the hostages were on the plane, but it hadn’t left the ground. Last minute hitches delayed takeoff, and further reports said the delay would take at least another two hours, as of news time. In any case, the United States and Iran, earlier on this morning, signed an agreement for the hostage release. It was done first by Iranian officials in Tehran, and then by Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Algiers. The signing ceremony was a low-key end to months of negotiations, the last being 12 days in Algiers and no sleep for the last 48 hours for Warren Christopher. later, an Algerian interpreter read out the complex legal documents Christopher initialed and signed on behalf of President Carter. Algeria was to certify the safe release of the hostages and guarantee the transfer of Iranian assets. In the lengthy detailed clauses there was one giving both the United States and Iran 72 hours to change their minds.
All of this signaled hectic activity at The White House, as Christopher signed the documents at 3:30 am Eastern time. When word reached the White House, the moment was celebrated with champagne toasts. But shortly before 5:00 am, President Carter showed no public jubilation, when he told reporters in the Press room that implementing documents were still to be signed, and that he could not say how swiftly that process would go forward. Meanwhile, contingency plans were underway that would permit the President and other officials to fly to Wiesbaden Germany to greet the hostages later on in the day. Reportedly, the President would not begin the trip until the hostage were airborne, heading for Europe. And no one was going to discuss the details of the agreement, for fear a misinterpretation might cause a last minute snag. It was a morning of holding breath.
There was other news going on this day, but this was on everyone’s minds via The CBS World News Roundup for January 19, 1981.