Before the fall of the Shah of Iran, the Iranian Embassy in the United States sheltered parties of legendary elegance. But the massive, vaguely Persian building is now the shabbiest resident of Washington's diplomatic row.
Its front door, inset with carvings of rampant animals, is spattered with paint and chained shut. Fallen leaves cover the front steps. A stripped sedan rests on blocks in the parking lot. Last spring, an embassy Mercedes, which had been parked in the driveway for more than a year, disappeared. The Iranians' US lawyer has no idea where the expensive car has gone; he says it may have been stolen.
Today, three years after 62 US citizens (some were quickly released) were taken hostage in Tehran, the relationship between Iran and the United States is as desolate as the Iranian Embassy grounds.
''We are still the Great Satan to them,'' says a State Department official who wishes to remain anonymous.
The cataclysmic event that sundered US-Iranian relations occurred on Nov. 4, 1979, when a band of fundamentalist Iranians forced their way into the US Embassy in Iran and took 62 US diplomats and military personnel hostage. Freed on Jan. 21, 1981, most of the former hostages have now gladly escaped the public spotlight.
''They've gone back to their private lives,'' says Sheldon Krys, executive director of the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and ''godfather'' to the hostages.
All but two or three of the diplomats among the hostages have elected to stay in the Foreign Service (the State Department won't divulge exact figures). Many of the Marine guards have returned to school.
Moorhead Kennedy, one of the few former hostages who left government service, now runs the World Center for the Study of Religion and International Affairs, a peace institute headquartered at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.
''I'm not trying to get back into the mold I was in before (being taken hostage),'' says Mr. Kennedy. ''I didn't want to go back to the same goals.''