The 440-day hostage crisis began at the height of the revolutionary fervor following the overthrow of the U.S.-backed shah. But a generation later, Iranians are more concerned with jump-starting their sluggish economy and taking their place in the international community than with militant posturing. "Even many of the former hostage-takers themselves now argue that it's in Iran's interests to normalize relations with Washington," says MacLeod. "Movement on both sides suggests there are strong prospects for restoring relations after the next U.S. election. But a lot will hinge on the outcome of February's parliamentary elections in Iran." The hard-liners, who are fiercely opposed to Khatami's reform agenda and any attempt to reconcile with the West, currently control the parliament, but the president's supporters are hoping to repeat the landslide trouncing of the conservatives that brought Khatami to power two years ago. But the hard-liners control the electoral process, which will make life difficult for reformist candidates. Still, 20 years after the embassy seizure, the fire of revolution is down to its last embers.
The "Great Satan" isn't such a bad guy after all. The handful of demonstrators who marked the anniversary Thursday of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by burning Old Glory and chanting "Death to America" may be an endangered species. "People who shout 'Death to America' are fast becoming a small minority in Iranian politics," says TIME Middle East bureau chief Scott MacLeod. "Even though it's a powerful minority with considerable influence in government, the tide has turned against it. President Mohammed Khatami, the choice of 70 percent of Iranian voters, has gone as far as to actually express regret over the seizure of the hostages, and has reached out to America for better relations."