A Brief History Of The Ups And Downs In US-Iran Relations


Iran and the United States broke diplomatic ties following the 1979 Islamic revolution and the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran 32 years ago. Here are details of ups and downs in their relations since the 1950’s.

1953 – A COUP: — In August 1953, the CIA helped orchestrate the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected and popular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, restoring the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, to power.

— Washington acted after Britain, opposed to Mossadegh’s policy of nationalising the British-controlled oil industry, convinced U.S. officials the prime minister was turning to communism.


— A 1972 visit by U.S. President Richard Nixon cemented a close strategic relationship between Iran and the United States. But opposition to the Shah, led by exiled cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, mounted over the next few years.


— After bloody clashes between protesters and troops, the Shah fled into exile in January 1979. The next month, Khomeini returned to Iran in triumph to seal victory for an Islamic revolution whose mantra was “Death to America”.

— In November 1979, Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 90 hostages; 52 were held captive for 444 days, prompting Washington to break relations in 1980.

1986 – ARMS DEAL:

— U.S. President Ronald Reagan admitted to secret arms deals with Iran that broke a U.S. embargo. The trade was aimed at winning the release of Americans held by pro-Iranian Shi’ite Muslim militants in Lebanon. Money from the sales was secretly passed to U.S.-backed Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. At the time, Iran was embroiled in war with President Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, with Washington giving increasing support to Baghdad.


— Iranian voters swept reform-minded President Mohammad Khatami to power. He promoted a “dialogue among civilisations”. During his term, Iranians staged an impromptu vigil in Tehran when hijacked planes struck U.S. targets on Sept. 11, 2001.

— After those al Qaeda attacks, Iran offered support in a U.S.-led war to topple Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders, who were shielding al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Iran helped ensure the success of a multilateral post-war conference on Afghanistan. But in January 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush branded Iran part of an “axis of evil”.


— The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq toppled Saddam, a Sunni Arab leader who had been a deadly enemy of Iran, and brought to power Shi’ite factions with closer links to Tehran.

— As Iraq descended into insurgency and sectarian conflict, the United States accused Tehran of arming, funding and training Shi’ite militias that had attacked U.S. forces in Iraq. Iran denied this, blaming the U.S. troop presence for the violence.


— The United States led efforts to toughen U.N. sanctions on Iran over its nuclear activity and in March 2008 the Security Council adopted a third sanctions resolution. Iran says the programme is lawful, peaceful, designed only to generate electricity, but a history of concealing sensitive nuclear work and restricting U.N. inspections has raised Western suspicions.

— U.S.-Iran tension worsened after the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who berated the West, questioned the Holocaust and called for Israel to be wiped off the map. In a surprise development, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in late 2007 said Iran put nuclear military plans on hold in 2003.


— New U.S. President Barack Obama said in January 2009 that America was prepared to extend a hand of peace to Iran if it “unclenched its fist”. Ahmadinejad said Tehran was ready to talk but demanded a fundamental change in U.S. policy.

— In March 2009 Obama issued a videotaped appeal to Iranian leaders and their people, saying his “administration is now committed to diplomacy” that addresses the full range of issues before them and “to pursuing constructive ties”.

— Iran said later that Obama should fundamentally change Washington’s policy towards Iran and should “realise its previous mistakes” and make an effort to correct them.


— Washington has been pressing for new sanctions on Iran after uncovering what it says was an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

— In November Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded that Iran respond within days to IAEA accusations of atomic weapons work, and said Washington was consulting allies on further steps to pressure Tehran. Her comments followed a report from the group that concluded that Iran had worked on developing an atomic bomb design and may still be conducting such research.

— Iran, has denied it wants nuclear weapons, condemning the report as “unbalanced” and “politically motivated”. The United States stepped up pressure on Nov. 21, naming Iran as an area of “primary money laundering concern”, a step designed to dissuade non-U.S. banks from dealing with it

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