Ambassador Lowell Bruce Laingen, one of 52 Iranian hostages released on Jan. 20, 1981, after 444 days in captivity, remembers being pushed onto an Algerian aircraft to his freedom. Laingen, the senior American diplomat of the group, recalls stopping at the top of the boarding ramp and telling an Iranian government official: "I look forward to the day when your country and mine can again have a normal diplomatic relationship."
Nearly 30 years later, Laingen, who was just awarded the American Foreign Service Association's 2010 lifetime achievement award, regrets that the day has not come. "We simply have not been able to find the basis for a dialogue with Iran, and that has made no sense since the beginning. After all, we are the second largest Persian-speaking nation in the world," he says. "We should be in a relationship with that country through whatever government is there." Laingen is the last American to have a formal dialogue with the regime.