The relationship between the U.S. and Iran has been shrouded in confusion and scandal throughout the 20th century and in recent events. The root of the Iran and the U.S. conflict can be traced to the overthrow of Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh by the U.S. in 1953.
According to NPR News, Mossadegh, “broke off negotiations and denied the British any further involvement in Iran’s oil industry.” To assist the U.K. in regaining access to Iran’s oil, the U.S. backed the Iranian military to overthrow Mossadegh, replacing him with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah.
The rule of Pahlavi upset many. Lower and middle-class Iranians suffered economically and his use of a secret police force to stifle rebellion resulted in, “Thousands imprisoned and tortured,” according to the Associated Press.
Opposition to his rule grew because of religious discontent and disapproval of Pahlavi’s attempt to westernize Iran. Many Iranians supported Ayatollah Khomeini, a Shiite cleric, who promoted the establishment of an Islamic State in Iran. After months of rioting and a stifled uprising in 1963, the Shah’s regime officially collapsed with an attack on his security.
In October 1979, President Jimmy Carter allowed an ailing Pahlavi entrance into the U.S. for treatment. This would later be seen as a, “-calculated political gamble taken in response to high-pressure lobbying,” according to the New York Times.
This action by the U.S. prompted the Iranian hostage crisis situation where the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed on November 4, 1979 and 52 Americans were taken and held hostage for 444 days. The hostages were released on the day of President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, January 20, 1981, after months of negotiations.
Despite the release of the hostages at the beginning of Reagan’s Presidency, relations with Iran would continue to be strained because of U.S. imposed sanctions.
Throughout the 1980s, the U.S. was one of many countries stationed in the middle-eastern countries to protect their oil transports during the Iran-Iraq war. Amidst this conflict in July 1988, a U.S. guided-missile cruiser hit a passenger plane, Iran Air flight 655, mistaking it for fighter jet while in Iranian airspace. All of the 290 people died on contact.
The U.S. expressed, “deep regrets over the loss of lives,” and paid $61.8 million to the victims’ families, but did not claim liability for the incident, according to the Seattle Times. This was widely regarded in Iran as an intentional action and evidence for the U.S.’ support for Iraq.
Tensions between the two countries continued. During 2002 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush identified Iran as a part of the “Axis of Evil,” stating that, “By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.”
The discovery of a uranium enrichment plan and heavy-water reactor in Iran sparked suspicion of nuclear weapon production. This discovery resulted in heavy sanctioning of Iran by the U.S., U.N., and E.U. During President Obama’s administration, Iran agreed to the terms of a new nuclear deal, allowing for inspections and limitations for the lifting of these sanctions. President Obama remarked that “This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it.”