Iran - U.S.

The history and relations between Iran and the United States are complex and multi-faceted, with today’s ideological and political conflicts having their roots in actions during the 1950s and U.S. involvement in Iranian affairs.

Until the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Tehran-Washington ties were of great strategic importance to both nations. Iran, led by the pro-American Shah, was a close ally in a much troubled and hostile region. The Shah resumed power after a 1953 coup sponsored the CIA and other international agencies, which led to the overthrow of democratically elected prime minister Muhammad Mossadeq.

Bilateral ties flourished throughout the Shah’s subsequent reign, but as tensions grew in the run-up to the 1979 revolution, the U.S. was seen as partially responsible within Iran for the Shah's oppressive regime. Relations reached breaking point in November 1979 when the Shah, by then in exile after the revolution, was allowed into the United States for medical treatment. Angry Iranian students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran, taking more than 60 people inside hostage. The bulk of the captives were only released in January 1981.

Hostility between the two countries seemed to solidify in the 1980s, with the revelation that U.S. was supplying Iraq with advanced weaponry during Iran’s eight year bloody war with Iraq. Furthermore, an Iranian passenger plane was shot down in 1988 by a U.S. Naval vessel inside Iranian waters, killing all 290 people onboard.

Iran-U.S. relations slightly improved in the mid-90s with the election of Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. The U.S. welcomed Khatami’s calls for dialogue and his reformist stance on bilateral ties. This was a short-lived rapprochement, and the election of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president sparked a new deterioration in Iran-U.S. ties.

Ahmadinejad’s regime has clashed with the Americans over U.S. support for Israel, its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and its position over Iran’s nuclear program. The U.S. and the West have accused Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons, and have pushed for a series of sanctions aimed at curbing these atomic aspirations. The U.S. has also declined to rule out a strike on Iran to stop it from building a nuclear bomb. The U.S. also views Iran as meddling in Middle Eastern peace bids, encouraging Syria to resist American overtures and supporting Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas and Lebanese-based Shi'ite organization Hezbollah.