Brief History of Iran And US Relations


An understanding of the history of Iran-US relations is essential for those who wish to work within the current political framework of Iran. In an effort to diminish the Iranian regime’s nuclear threat, the U.S. and other world powers signed the Join Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the JCPOA, which places limits on Iran’s nuclear program.

Historical Alliances

By the Cold War, the US developed ties with Iran because of its economic potential as an oil producer. Iran’s location made it a strong ally against the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, Washington backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in his efforts to consolidate his rule. After the Shah’s escape following a national uprising in 1952, which restored the premiership of Iran’s nationalist leader Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, the CIA, the Royal Court and reactionary clerics engineered a coup that brought the Shah back to power.

In 1979, the Iranian people rose up against the Shah’s excesses and toppled the Monarchy. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, however, took advantage of a power vacuum and usurped the leadership of the revolution. To consolidate his regime, Khomeini supported the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, during which  52 Americans diplomats were held hostage. The Carter administration froze Iranian accounts and severed diplomatic relations.

In 1980s, the Iranian regime created proxy militia groups in Lebanon, such as Hezbollah, in Iraq and elsewhere consistent with its policy of exporting revolution. Through the 1990s, the U.S. designated the Iranian regime as the most active state sponsor of terror for fomenting  terrorist activities and supporting Shiite militant groups . President Clinton imposed sanctions on Iran in 1995.

The Present

After President Mohammad Khatami became president in 1997, the Clinton administration eased some of the sanctions as a gesture of goodwill mistakenly believing that the regime will moderate its behavior.

In 2005, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad worsened relations by denying Israel’s nationhood. From 2006 to 2008, the U.S. renewed sanctions with international support because of Iran’s increasing nuclear involvement. President Barack Obama renewed negotiations. In 2010, the UN approved crippling penalties. Since 2013, despite his pretenses of moderation, President Hassan Rouhani has continued the policies pursued by his predecessor as they relate to support for the Assad regime, human rights abuses inside Iran and the development and proliferation of ballistic missiles.

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