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American–Iranian relations
United States Iran
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     United States      Iran

Political relations between Iran and the United States began in the mid to late 1800s, but had small importance or controversy until the post-World War II era of the Cold War and of petroleum exports from the Persian Gulf. Since then an era of close alliance between Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's regime and the American government was followed by a dramatic reversal and hostility between the two countries after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Opinions differ over what has caused the decades of poor relations. Iranian explanations offered include everything from the natural and unavoidable conflict between the Islamic Revolution on the one hand, and American arrogance [1] and desire for global hegemony on the other;[2] to the regime's need for an external bogeyman to furnish a pretext for domestic repression against pro-democratic forces, and bind the regime to its small but loyal and heavily armed constituency.[3]


Early relations

Political relations between Persia and the United States "began when the Shah of Persia, Nassereddin Shah Qajar, officially dispatched Persia's first ambassador, Mirza Abolhasan Shirazi, to Washington D.C. in 1856."[4] In 1883, Samuel Benjamin was appointed by the United States as the first official diplomatic envoy to Iran, however; Ambassadorial relations were not established until 1944.[4]

The first Persian Ambassador to The United States of America was Mirza Albohassan Khan Ilchi Kabir. Even before political relations, since the early to mid 1880s, Americans had been traveling to Iran. Justin Perkins and Asahel Grant were the first missionaries to be dispatched to Persia in 1834 via the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

The famous of Nasereddin Shah, Amir Kabir, also initiated direct contacts with Washington. By the end of the 19th century, negotiations were underway for an American company to establish a railway system from the Persian Gulf to Tehran.

Up until World War II, relations between Iran and the United States remained cordial. As a result many Persian Constitutional Revolution constitutionalist Iranians came to view the U.S. as a "third force" in their struggle to break free of the humiliating British and Russian meddling and dominance in Persian affairs. It is even believed that such appointments were the result of contacts made by the Persian Constitutional revolutionaries with the executive branch of the US government, even though no official documents of such contacts exist. What is certain however is that Persia's drive for modernizing its economy and liberating it from British and Russian influences had the full support of American industrial and business leaders.

In 1909, during the Persian Constitutional Revolution, Howard Baskerville died in Tabriz while trying to help the constitutionalists in a battle against royalist forces. After the American financial consultant Morgan Shuster was appointed Treasurer General of Persia by the Iranian parliament in 1911, an American was killed in Tehran by henchmen thought to be affiliated with Russian or British interests. Shuster became even more active in supporting the Constitutional revolution of Persia financially.[5] When Shu'a al-Saltaneh (شعاع السلطنه), the Shah's brother who was aligned with the goals of Imperial Russia in Persia, was ordered by Iran's government to surrender his assets to it, Shuster was assigned this task, which he promptly moved to execute. Imperial Russia immediately landed troops in Bandar Anzali demanding a recourse and apology from the Persian government. Eventually, Iran's parliament in Tehran was shelled by General Liakhoff of Imperial Russia, and Morgan Shuster was forced to resign under tremendous British and Russian pressure. Shuster's book The Strangling of Persia is a recount of the details of these events, a harsh criticism of Britain and Imperial Russia.

It was the American embassy that first relayed to the Iran desk at the Foreign Office in London confirmation of the popular view that the British were involved in the 1921 coup that brought Reza Shah to power.[6][7] A British Embassy report from 1932 admits that the British put Reza Shah "on the throne". The United States was not an ally of Britain as far as Persia was concerned at that point in time.

Morgan Shuster was soon to be followed by Arthur Millspaugh, appointed as Treasurer General by Reza Shah, and Arthur Pope, who was a main driving force behind the Persian Empire revivalist policies of Reza Shah. But the friendly relations between the United States and Iran were about to change at the onset of the 1950s.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi reign

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi maintained close ties with America during most of his reign which lasted from 1941 to 1979 when he was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution. He pursued a Westernizing, modernizing economic policy, and a strongly pro-Western foreign policy, made a number of visits to America and were he was regarded as a friend of America.need source

Iran's long border with America's Cold War rival, the Soviet Union, and its position as the largest, most powerful country in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, made Iran a "pillar" of American foreign policy in the Middle East.[8]

Prior to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iran had one of the world's largest number of students residing in the United States.

Premier Mossadeq and his overthrow

In 1953, prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq was overthrown by a CIA financed and organized coup, in what has been called "a crucial turning point both in Iran's modern history and in U.S. Iran relations." Many Iranians argue that "the 1953 coup and the extensive U.S. support for the shah in subsequent years were largely responsible for the shah's arbitrary rule," which lead to the "deeply anti-American character" of the 1979 revolution.[9]

Until the outbreak of World War II, the United States had no active policy towards Iran.[10] With the end of the war a Cold War between the communist world and western states commenced with the United states alarmed by the attempt by the Soviet Union to set up separatist states in Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, its demand for military rights to the Dardanelles in 1946, the "loss of China" to communism, the uncovering of Soviet spy rings, the invasion of southern Korea by the north, starting the Korean War[11]

From 1952-53, Mohammed Mossadeq, the democratically elected Prime Minister, began nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Established by the British in the early 20th century, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company shared profits (85% British – 15% Iran), but the company withheld their financial records from the Iranian government. By 1951 Iranian support for nationalization of the AIOC was intense and the Iranian Parliament unanimously agreed to nationalize its holding of, what was at the time, the British Empire’s largest company. The British retaliated with an embargo on Iranian oil supported by international oil companies. Over the coming months negotiations over control and compensation for the oil deadlocked and Iran's economy deteriorating.

At first the United States involvement in the so-called Abadan Crisis offered Mosaddeq some help. The administration of President Truman persuaded the British not to invade Iran and pressed the British to moderate their position in the oil negotiations. US policies created a feeling in Iran that the US was Mosaddeq's side and optimism that the oil dispute would soon be settled with "a series of innovative proposals to settle" the dispute, giving Iran "significant amounts of economic aid," hosting Mosaddeq in the American capital and making "frequent statements expressing support for him." [12]

At the same time the US honored the British embargo and (unknown to Truman) the CIA station in Tehran had been "carrying out covert activities" against Mosaddeq and the National Front "at least since the summer of 1952".[13]

1953 Iranian coup d'état

As the cold war intensified, oil negotiations continued to stall, and the Republican Eisenhower replaced the Democrat Truman in America, the US embarqued on plans to destabilize Mosaddeq on the theory that "rising internal tensions and continued deterioration ... might lead to a breakdown of government authority and open the way for at least a gradual assumption of control" Iran's well organized Tudeh communist party.[14] In spring and summer 1953, the United States and Britain, through a covert operation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) called Operation Ajax, conducted from the US Embassy in Tehran, helped organize a coup d'état to overthrow the Moussadeq government. The operation initially failed and the Shah fled to Italy, but a second attempt succeeded with the Shah returned and Mosaddeq imprisoned.

According to a study of the coup headed by Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne, intended "to resolve" the "controversy" over who and what were responsible for the coup, "it was geostrategic considerations, rather than a desire to destroy Mosaddeq's movement, to establish a dictatorship in Iran or to gain control over Iran's oil, that persuaded U.S. officials to undertake the coup." [15]


Following the coup the US helped build up the shah's regime, even as it demonstrated its authoritarianism. In the first three weeks the US government gave Iran $68 million in emergency aid, and an additional $1.2 billion over the next decade.[16]

During his brutal reign, the Shah received significant American support, frequently making state visits to the White House and earning praise from numerous American Presidents. The Shah's close ties to Washington and his bold agenda of rapidly Westernizing Iran soon began to infuriate certain segments of the Iranian population, especially the hardline Islamic conservatives.

In America, the coup was originally considered a triumph of covert action but now is considered by many to have left "a haunting and terrible legacy." [17] In 2000, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, called it a "setback for democratic government" in Iran.[18] Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei condemned the admission as "deceitful" complaining that it 'did not even include an apology.' [19]

Cultural relations

Relations in the cultural sphere however remained cordial. Pahlavi University, Sharif University of Technology, and Isfahan University of Technology, three of Iran's top academic universities were all directly modeled on American institutions such as the University of Chicago, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania.[20][21] The Shah in return was generous in awarding American universities with financial gifts. For example, the University of Southern California received a gift from the Shah in the form of an endowed chair of petroleum engineering, and a million dollar donation was given to the George Washington University to create an Iranian Studies program.[20]

Growth of oil revenues

In the 1960 and especially the 1970s Iran's oil revenues grew considerably. Starting in the mid-1960 this "weakened U.S. influence in Iranian politics" while it strengthened the power of the Iranian state vis-a-vis the Iranian public. According to scholar Homa Katouzian this put the US "in the contradictory position of being regarded" by the Iranian public because of the 1953 coup, "as the chief architect and instructor of the regime," while, "its real influence" in domestic Iranian politics and policies, "declined considerably" [22]

1977-1979: Carter administration

The Iranian Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi meeting with Alfred Atherton, William H. Sullivan, Cyrus Vance, President Jimmy Carter, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1977.
Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, shakes hands with a US Air Force general officer prior to his departure from the United States.

In 1977, Jimmy Carter started his term of office as president in the US. Unlike previous American presidents, Carter emphasized human rights in his foreign policy, including the shah's regime, which by 1977 had garnered unfavorable publicity in the West for its human rights record.[23] That year the Shah responded to the "polite reminder" of the importance of political rights by Jimmy Carter, by granting amnesty to some prisoners and allowing the Red Cross to visit prisons. Through 1977 liberal opposition formed organizations and issued open letters denouncing the regime.[24] [25]

At the same time, Carter angered anti-Shah Iranians with a New Years Eve 1978 toast to the Shah in which he said:

'Under the Shah’s brilliant leadership Iran is an island of stability in one of the most troublesome regions of the world. There is no other state figure whom I could appreciate and like more.'[26]

Observers disagree over the nature of US policy toward Iran under Carter as the shah's regime crumbled. According to historian Nikki Keddie, the Carter's administration followed "no clear policy" on Iran.[4] The U.S. ambassador to Iran, William H. Sullivan, recalls that the U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski “repeatedly assured Pahlavi that the U.S. backed him fully." On November 4, 1978, Brzezinski called the Shah to tell him that the United States would "back him to the hilt." But at the same time, certain high-level officials in the State Department believed the revolution was unstoppable.[27] After visiting the Shah in summer of 1978, Secretary of the Treasury W. Michael Blumenthal complained of the Shah's emotional collapse, reporting, "You've got a zombie out there."[28] Brzezinski and Energy Secretary James Schlesinger were adamant in their assurances that the Shah would receive military support.

But another scholar, (sociologist Charles Kurzman), argues that rather than being indecisive, or sympathetic to the revolution, the Carter administration was consistently supportive of the Shah and urged the Iranian military to stage a "last-resort coup d'etat" even after the regime's cause was hopeless.[29] In addition, some Iranian supporters of the shah believe Carter betrayed the Shah.[30][31]

The 1979 revolution

The 1979 Iranian Revolution, which ousted the pro-American Shah and replaced him with the anti-American Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, came as a complete surprise to the United States government, its State Department and intelligence services, which "consistently underestimated the magnitude and long-term implications of this unrest".[32] Only six months before the revolution culminated, the CIA even produced a report which stated that “Persia is not in a revolutionary or even a "prerevolutionary" situation”[33]

A dispute between Iran and America, which arose shortly after the Islamic revolutionaries took power, involved the fate of the exiled Shah, who the Islamic revolutionaries wished to extradite and execute. The American administration under President Jimmy Carter refused to give the exiled Shah any further support and expressed no interest in attempting to return him to power. A significant embarrassment for Carter occurred when the Shah, as of that time suffering from cancer, requested entry into the United States for treatment. The American embassy in Tehran vigorously opposed the United States granting his request, as they were intent on stabilizing relations between the new interim revolutionary government of Iran and the United States.[25]

Despite agreeing with the staff of the American embassy in disallowing the Shah's entry into the U.S., after pressure from Kissinger and Rockefeller, among other pro-Shah political figures, Carter reluctantly agreed, but the move was used by the Iranian revolutionaries' to justify their claims that the former monarch was an American puppet and led to the storming of the American embassy by radical students allied with the Khomeini faction.[25]

The 1979 Iran hostage crisis

Vice President George H. W. Bush and other VIPs wait to welcome the former hostages to Iran home
Families wait for the former hostages to disembark the plane.

On November 4, 1979, the revolutionary group Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, angered that the recently deposed Shah had been allowed into the United States for cancer treatment, occupied the American embassy in Tehran and took U.S. diplomats hostage. 52 U.S. diplomats were held hostage for 444 days.

In Iran, the incident was seen by many as a blow against U.S. influence in Iran and against the liberal-moderate interim government of Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan which opposed the hostage taking and resigned soon after. For the hostage takers and other Iranians, their action was connected to the 1953 U.S.-backed coup against the democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Mosaddeq.

"You have no right to complain, because you took our whole country hostage in 1953.”

said one of the hostage takers to Bruce Laingen, chief U.S. diplomat in Iran at the time.[34] Some Iranians were concerned that the U.S. was plotting another coup against their country in 1979 from the American embassy and wanted to prevent it.[34]

In the United States, the hostage-taking was widely seen as an outrage violating a centuries-old principle of international law granting diplomats immunity from arrest and diplomatic compounds sovereignty in the territory of the host country they occupy.[35]

The ordeal reached a climax when the United States military attempted a rescue operation, Operation Eagle Claw, on April 24, 1980, which resulted in an aborted mission and the deaths of eight American military men.

The crisis ended with the signing of the Algiers Accords in Algeria on January 19, 1981. On January 20, 1981, the date the treaty was signed, the hostages were released. The Iran-United States Claims Tribunal (located in The Hague, Netherlands) was established for the purpose of handling claims of U.S. nationals against Iran and of Iranian nationals against the United States. U.S. contact with Iran through The Hague covers only legal matters.

The crisis led to lasting economic and diplomatic damage. On April 7, 1980, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran, a break which has yet to be restored. On April 24, 1981, the Swiss Government assumed representation of U.S. interests in Tehran via an interests section. Iranian interests in the United States are represented by the Iranian Interests Section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, DC.

Economic consequences of the Iran hostage crisis

Before the Revolution with the Shah, the United States was Iran's foremost economic and military partner, thus participating greatly in the rapid modernization of its infrastructure and industry with as many as thirty thousand American expatriates residing in the country in a technical, consulting, or teaching capacity. A posteriori, some analysts argue that the transformation may have been too rapid, fueling unrest and discontent among an important part of the population in the country, which culminated with the revolution itself in 1979.

The issue of frozen Iranian assets is especially sensitive for the Iranian government. After the 1979 seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran, the United States froze about $12 billion in Iranian assets, including bank deposits, gold and other properties. According to U.S. officials, most of those were released in 1981 as part of the deal for the return of U.S. hostages taken in the embassy seizure. But some assets—Iranian officials say $10 billion, U.S. officials say much less—remain frozen pending resolution of legal claims arising from the revolution.

Commercial relations between Iran and the United States are restricted by U.S. sanctions and consist mainly of Iranian purchases of food, spare parts, and medical products and U.S. purchases of carpets and food. Sanctions originally imposed in 1995 by President Clinton have been continually renewed by President Bush, citing the "unusual and extraordinary threat" to U.S. national security posed by Iran. The 1995 executive orders prohibit U.S. companies and their foreign subsidiaries from conducting business with Iran, while banning any "contract for the financing of the development of petroleum resources located in Iran." In addition, the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 (ILSA) imposed mandatory and discretionary sanctions on non-U.S. companies investing more than $20 million annually in the Iranian oil and natural gas sectors.

The ILSA was renewed for five more years in 2001. Congressional bills signed in 2006 extended and added provisions to the act; on September 30, 2006, the act was renamed to the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), as it no longer applied to Libya, and extended until December 31, 2011.

1980s: Reagan administration

Iran–Iraq War

See United States support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war

The United States allegedly gave Saddam Hussein the green light for attacking Iran. Then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig allegedly wrote:

"It was also interesting to confirm that President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through Prince Fahd" of Jordan." [36]

At the time of the Iraq invasion, President Carter termed Iranian charges of U.S. complicity "patently false." In his memoir, Keeping Faith, he mentioned the Iranian allegation only obliquely in the context of mentioning the start of the war, writing: “Typically, the Iranians accused me of planning and supporting the invasion."[37] While Said K. Aburish has claimed that Hussein made a visit to Amman in the year 1979, before the Iran–Iraq War, where he met with King Hussein and, very possibly, three agents of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and that there is "considerable evidence that he discussed his plans to invade Iran with the CIA agents," the records of the meeting that occurred on this same date between American officials and King Hussein do not show any mention of Iran.[38] Others have argued: "While the Europeans, Chinese and Russians sold Iraq weapons galore, the US alone did not. We even had a law proscribing the sale of weapons to Iraq. When attacking Iran in 1979 Iraq did not a US made bullet in its arsenal."[39] Eric Alterman in The Nation has called the charge a “slander” and argued there is no credible evidence to back it up.[40] One argument against the alleged green light is: “In September 1980, the US did not even have diplomatic relations with Iraq, a state of affairs that had long been accompanied by a deep mutual hostility fostered by Iraq's chosen role as dependable Soviet client. Saddam surely thought the US—as the only power capable of stopping him—could hardly be expected to intervene in favor of Iran which was daily denouncing the US as the Great Satan and continuing to humiliate Carter by holding the embassy hostages. But that tacit acquiescence is the extent of any US encouragement Saddam got from Carter of the US. One can subject the policy of a tilt toward Iraq to withering scrutiny and criticism, but it's more persuasive if one doesn't make stuff up in the process. And Jimmy had basically nothing to do with it. He was out before he had the chance.”[41]

That Iraq was the aggressor is also disputed. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt argued in a paper titled "Can Saddam Be Contained? History Says Yes" that, as Iran took the first military action through its repeated cross-border attacks on Iraq, it was most responsible for starting the war. They went on to say that the war "was essentially defensive" rather than offensive. They noted: "...Given this history of animosity, it is not surprising that Saddam welcomed the Shah’s ouster in 1979. Indeed, Iraq went to considerable lengths to foster good relations with Iran’s revolutionary leadership. Saddam did not try to exploit the turmoil in Iran to gain strategic advantage over his neighbor and made no attempt to reverse his earlier concessions, even though Iran did not fully comply with the terms of the 1975 agreement. The Ayatollah Khomeini, on the other hand, was determined to extend his revolution across the Islamic world, starting with Iraq. By late 1979, Tehran was pushing hard to get the Kurdish and Shi’ite populations in Iraq to revolt and topple Saddam, and Iranian operatives were actively trying to assassinate senior Iraqi officials. Border clashes became increasingly frequent by April 1980, largely at Iran’s instigation. Facing a grave threat to his regime but aware that Iran’s military readiness had been temporarily disrupted by the revolution, Saddam launched a limited war against his bitter foe on September 22, 1980."[42] Dr. John David Lewis, senior research scholar in history and classics at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, mocked the very idea that the war "was aggression by Saddam's Iraq" in an essay for Capitalism Magazine. He suggested that this was propaganda propagated by the Iranian government.[43] Jude Wanniski, in a piece pointing out that Iran launched the first military attacks (though Iraq was the first to declare war and invade), stated: "As for who started the war, you need only ask yourself why Saddam would take on a country three times the size of Iraq, 60 million to 20 million, without ever showing the slightest intent of carrying the fight to Tehran. When the escalating skirmishing grew into open war, the Iraqi army moved several dozen miles into Iran and stopped, seemingly ready to come to terms. It was the deranged Ayatollah Khomeini, who announced upon his return to Tehran from his exile in Paris, that Saddam Hussein was at the top of his list of enemies... and it was he who called upon his Shi'ite followers in Iraq to change the secular regime in Baghdad, replacing it with a fundamentalist regime that would make him happy."[44] Another essay noted that "most countries" agreed at the time to "label Iran as the aggressor" and that no one accused Iraq of aggression against Iran until after it invaded Kuwait. It pointed out that "Iraq had declared truces and ceasefires a few times, and on occasions unilaterally, hoping to end the war early...Finally in early 1988, Iraq sought to end the war through an escalation of the war effort. To achieve this, the Iraqis used chemical weapons on Halabja, recaptured the Fao peninsula and drove the Iranian forces out of Majnoon islands. Suddenly the Iraqis seemed "alive and rejuvenated" to continue the war effort when the Iranians seemed to have lost their initial zest. And when Iran accepted the UN Resolution 598 in July 1988, Iraq readily agreed to the ceasefire and abided to the resolution accordingly.....To Iran, the war was the main means of rallying popular support behind the regime. The sudden announcement by Tehran that it was accepting the ceasefire was greeted with astonishment in the outside world but a resigned bewilderment within Iran. In contrast to Iran's subdued reaction to the ceasefire, Iraq loudly praised this development."[45] Walt and Mearsheimer also quoted military analyst Efraim Karsh in their essay mentioned earlier as saying that "the war began because the weaker state, Iraq, attempted to resist the hegemonic aspirations of its stronger neighbor, Iran, to reshape the regional status quo according to its own image." Iran responded to Iraq's unilateral concessions in 1982 by invading Iraq and declaring "There are no conditions. The only condition is that the regime in Baghdad must fall and must be replaced by an Islamic Republic."[46]

The U.S. materially supported Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War.[47][48] U.S. intelligence and logistical support played a crucial role in arming Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war. The Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous dual use items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague.[49]

The U.S. provided critical battle planning assistance to Iraq at a time when U.S. intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the war, according to senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program. The U.S. claimed to have carried out the covert program at a time when Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci and National Security Adviser General Colin L. Powell were publicly condemning Iraq for its use of poison gas, especially after Iraq attacked Kurdish villagers in Halabja in March 1988. U.S. officials publicly condemned Iraq's employment of mustard gas, sarin, VX and other poisonous agents, but sixty Defense Intelligence Agency officers were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq. It has long been known that the U.S. provided intelligence assistance, such as satellite photography, to Saddam's regime. Carlucci said: "My understanding is that what was provided" to Iraq "was general order of battle information, not operational intelligence." "I certainly have no knowledge of U.S. participation in preparing battle and strike packages," he said, "and doubt strongly that that occurred." "I did agree that Iraq should not lose the war, but I certainly had no foreknowledge of their use of chemical weapons." Secretary of State Powell, through a spokesman, said the officers' description of the program was "dead wrong," but declined to discuss it.[50] According to reports of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs of the U.S. Senate, the United States under successive presidential administrations sold materials including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile fever and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992. The chairman of the Senate committee, Don Riegle, said: "The executive branch of our government approved 771 different export licences for sale of dual-use technology to Iraq. I think its a devastating record."[51] In 2000, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright expressed regret for that support.[52]

1983: Hezbollah bombings

The U.S. contends that the organization of Hezbollah has been involved in several anti-American terrorist attacks, including the April 1983 United States Embassy bombing which killed 17 Americans, the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing which killed 241 U.S. peace keepers in Lebanon, and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing.

A U.S. District court judge ruled in 2003 that the April 1983 United States Embassy bombing was by what had been at the time a new organization called Hezbollah supported by the state of Iran.[53]

In May 2003, in a case brought by the families of the 241 servicemen who were killed, U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth declared that the Islamic Republic of Iran was responsible for the 1983 attack. Lamberth concluded that Hezbollah was formed under the auspices of the Iranian government, was completely reliant on Iran in 1983, and assisted Iranian Ministry of Information and Security agents in carrying out the operation.[54]

A U.S. federal court has found that the Khobar Towers bombing was authorized by Ali Khomeini, then ayatollah of Iran.[55]

Iran-Contra Affair

In 1986 members of the Reagan administration helped sell weapons to Iran, using the profits to fund Contras militants in Nicaragua.[56] This event led to the Iran-Contra Affair which was a political scandal occurring in 1987 as a result of earlier events during the Reagan administration in which members of the executive branch sold weapons to Iran, an avowed enemy, and illegally used the profits to continue funding anti-Communist rebels, the Contras, in Nicaragua.[57] Large volumes of documents relating to the scandal were destroyed or withheld from investigators by Reagan administration officials.[58][59] The affair is still shrouded in secrecy. After the arms sales were revealed in November 1986, President Ronald Reagan appeared on national television and denied that they had occurred.[60] A week later, however, on November 13, Reagan returned to the airwaves to affirm that weapons were indeed transferred to Iran. He denied that they were part of an exchange for hostages.[56]

United States attack of 1988

In 1988 the United States launched what it called Operation Praying Mantis against Iran, claimed to be in retaliation for the Iranian mining of areas of the Persian Gulf as part of the Iran-Iraq war. The U.S. attack was the largest American naval combat operation since World War II.[61] The U.S. action began with coordinated strikes by two surface groups and neutralized the Sassan oil platform and the Sirri oil platform of Iran. In the ensuing battle, Iran lost one major warship and a smaller gunboat. Damage to the oil platforms was eventually repaired.[62] The International Court of Justice dismissed Iran's claim for reparation against the United States for breach of the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the two countries but noted that "the actions of the United States of America against Iranian oil platforms on October 19, 1987 (Operation Nimble Archer) and April 18, 1988 (Operation Praying Mantis) cannot be justified as measures necessary to protect the essential security interests of the United States of America."[63] The U.S. attack helped pressure Iran to agree to a ceasefire with Iraq later that summer.[64]

1988: Iran Air Flight 655 tragedy

On July 3, 1988 towards the end of the Iran–Iraq War, the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian Airbus A300B2 on a scheduled commercial flight in Iranian airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, killing 290 civilians from six nations, including 66 children. USS Vincennes was in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Earnest Will. The United States at first contended that flight 655 was a warplane and then said that it was outside the civilian air corridor and did not respond to radio calls. Both statements were untrue, and the radio calls were made on military frequencies to which the airliner did not have access.[65] According to the Iranian government, the shoot down was an intentionally performed and unlawful act, and even if there had been a mistaken identification, which Iran has not accepted, it argues that this constituted gross negligence and recklessness amounting to an international crime, not an accident, because the aircraft was not on a trajectory that threatened the Vincennes and had not aimed radar at it.[66] However, the United States has expressed regret only for the loss of innocent life, refusing to make a specific apology to the Iranian government.[67]

1990s: Clinton administration

In April 1995 a total embargo on dealings with Iran by U.S. companies was imposed by U.S. president Clinton. Trade with the U.S., which had been growing following the end of the Iran–Iraq War, ended abruptly.[68] The next year the American Congress passed the Iran-Libya Sanctions act which threatened even non-U.S. countries making large investments in energy. The act was denounced by the European Union as null and void, but blocked some investment for Iran nonetheless.

Khatami and Iranian reformers

The election of reformist president Khatami brought hopes for a thawing of relations. In January 1998 Khatami called for a "dialogue of civilizations" with the United States in a CNN interview, contrasting Huntington's famous essay "Clash of Civilizations". In the interview, Khatami invoked Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America to explain the similarities between American and Iranian quests for freedom. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright answered with conciliatory words and there followed an exchange of wrestling teams, freer travel to and from the United States, and an end to the American embargo of two Iranian export items: carpets and pistachios. Relations did not improve further, as Iran's conservatives opposed them in principle and the U.S. preconditions for discussions included changes in Iranian policy on Israel, nuclear energy, and support for terrorism.[69]

Inter-Parliamentary (Congress-to-Majlis) informal talks

On August 31, 2000, four United States Congress members: Senator Arlen Specter (R), Representative Bob Ney (R), Representative Gary Ackerman (D), and Representative Eliot L. Engel (D) met in New York City with Mehdi Karroubi, speaker of the Majlis of Iran (Iranian parliament), Maurice Motamed, a Jewish member of the Iranian Majlis, and three other Iranian parliamentarians for informal talks about various issues, taking advantage of a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.[70]


Concerns of Iranian and US governments

Anti US mural, Tehran

Obstacles to "resumption of relations" between the two countries from the U.S. perspective noted by Jahangir Amuzegaran, U.S. based international economic consultant and former Finance Minister and Economic Ambassador in Iran's pre-1979 government[71] were

  • State sponsorship of international terrorism[72]
  • Pursuit of weapons of mass destruction
  • Threats to neighbors in the Persian Gulf,
  • Repeated statements by the Iran's highest government officials that they wish "Death to America" and to "wipe Israel off the map".
  • Opposition to the Arab-Israeli peace process
  • Violations of human rights[73]

Jahangir Amuzegaran noted that "in recent years, the last two issues seem to have lost some of their potency and are now only infrequently raised. On the other hand, a new accusation of Iran's harboring of al Qaeda operatives has recently been added to the list."

On Iran's side, its original post-revolutionary list of demands included:

  • That the United States accept the legitimacy of the 1979 revolution,
  • Not interfere in Iran's internal affairs,
  • Deal with the Iranian regime on the basis of "respect and equality."

Subsequent demands by Iran noted by Jahangir Amuzegaran were:

  • Lifting U.S. economic sanctions,
  • Release of frozen Iranian assets in the United States
  • End to U.S. military presence in the neighboring countries of Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Removal of the U.S. Navy from the Persian Gulf
  • An end to perceived one-sided support for Israel
  • A formal apology for intervention in Iran, including the CIA-backed overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in the 1950s.[73]
  • Reparation for:
    • U.S. companies' assistance in developing Iraq's chemical weapons facilities during the Iran-Iraq war;[citation needed]
    • U.S. Support for anti-Iranian organizations (i.e. the MKO);[74]
    • USS Vincennes shooting down Iran Air Flight 655 with many civilian fatalities;
    • Economic damage caused by U.S. sanctions and political pressure;
    • U.S. UAV overflights over Iran violating Iranian airspace since 2003.[75]
    • Its human rights record.

Bush administration, first term

"Axis of evil" speech

On January 29, 2002 U.S. President George W. Bush gave his "Axis of evil" speech, describing Iran, along with North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, as an axis of evil and warning that the proliferation of long-range missiles developed by these countries was of great danger to the US and that it constituted terrorism. The speech caused outrage in Iran and was condemned by reformists and conservatives alike.[76]

Since 2003 the U.S. has been flying unmanned aerial vehicles, launched from Iraq, over Iran to obtain intelligence on Iran's nuclear program, reportedly providing little new information.[77] The Iranian government has formally protested the incursions as illegal.[78]

In January 2006, James Risen, a New York Times reporter, alleged in his book State of War that the CIA carried out a Clinton approved operation in 2000 (Operation Merlin) intended to delay Iran's nuclear energy program by feeding it flawed blueprints missing key components - which backfired and may actually have aided Iran, as the flaw was likely detected and corrected by a former Soviet nuclear scientist who headed the operation to make the delivery.

"Grand Bargain" proposal

A tractor-trailer from Virginia's Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team loaded aboard a C-5 Galaxy heading for Bam, Iran.

In 2003, before invading Iraq, the Bush administration reportedly received a fax from the Iranian government, containing overtures to the United States. With the help of the American Iranian Council, Iran purportedly made a secret proposal for a "grand bargain", which would have resolved outstanding issues between the U.S. and Iran, including Iran's support for terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and its nuclear program.[79] The document came shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Bush administration officials, including Richard Armitage, thought the Khatami government and the Swiss ambassador in Tehran were "promising more than it could deliver". Others, such as Vali Nasr and Gary Sick consider it a missed opportunity.[79] The fax never received a reply and there continued to be no official relations between the two countries.[80] According to Trita Parsi, author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States,[81] Lawrence Wilkerson, former secretary of state Colin Powell's chief of staff, told him "it was Cheney and Rumsfeld who made sure that Washington dismissed Iran's May 2003 offer to open up its nuclear program, rein in Hezbollah and cooperate against al-Qaeda."[82]

2003: Border incursions begin

Several claims have been made that the US has violated Iranian territorial sovereignty since 2003, including the flying of drones,[75][83][84] sending US soldiers into Iranian territory,[85] and the use of former or current members of the Mujahideen e-Khalq (MEK or MKO)[86] and the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PEJAK)[87] to carry out provocations such as bombings on Iranian territory in order to provoke pre-existing ethnic tensions.

Since 2003 the U.S. has been flying unmanned aerial vehicles, launched from Iraq, over Iran to obtain intelligence on Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, reportedly providing little new information.[75] The Iranian government has formally protested the incursions as illegal. A U.S. RQ-7 Shadow and a Hermes UAV have crashed in Iran.[83] In June 2005, Scott Ritter claimed that US attacks on Iran had already begun, including US overflights of Iran using pilotless drones.[84] Seymour Hersh has also stated that the US has also been penetrating eastern Iran from Afghanistan in a hunt for underground [nuclear weapons development] installations.[85]

Divide between public opinion and state policy

A Reuters/Zogby opinion poll taken in the United States and published on September 28, 2006 found 70 percent opposed any attack on Iran, 9 percent in favor of "air strikes on selected military targets," and 26 percent supporting the use of ground forces. Opposition to Israeli intervention weighed in at 47 (to 42) percent.[88]

Although anti-American billboards can be found in Iran and the slogan "death to America" is heard in Friday prayers, some have noted that Iran "just might" have the "least anti-American populace in the Muslim world"[89]

Following the 9/11 Attack some Iranians spontaneously gathered in the Maidan-e-Mohseni shopping area in northern Tehran in a candlelit vigil for the victims of the attack. However, these vigils were violently broken up by Ansar-e-Hezbollah hardliners.[90]

An opinion poll in 2003 asking Iranians if they supported resuming government dialogue with the United States found 75% in favor. The pollsters were jailed,[91] at least one of them spending several years in prison for his indiscretion.[92]

2005-2008: Bush administration, second term

In September 2005, U.S. State Department allegedly refused to issue visas for Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Mousa Qorbani, and a group of senior Iranian officials to travel to US to participate in an International parliamentary meeting held by the United Nations. According to UN rules, US has to grant visas to the senior officials from any UN member states, irrespective of their political views, to take part in UN meetings.[citation needed]

An American journalist, Seymour Hersh, claimed in January 2005 that U.S. Central Command had been asked to revise the military's war plan, providing for a maximum ground and air invasion of Iran and that the "hawks" in the U.S. government believed the EU3 negotiations would not succeed, and the Administration will act after this became clear. A former high-level intelligence official told him "It's not if we're going to do anything against Iran. They're doing it."[85]

Scott Ritter, former UN weapons of mass destruction inspector in Iraq, 1991–1998, claimed in April 2005 that the Pentagon was told in June 2005 to be prepared to launch a massive aerial attack against Iran in order to destroy the Iranian nuclear program. He claimed in June 2005 that the US military was preparing a "massive military presence" in Azerbaijan that would foretell a major land-based campaign designed to capture Tehran. He also claimed that the US attack on Iran had "already begun" (see below).[93]

In his article published March 27, 2006, Joseph Cirincione, director for non-proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, claimed that "some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran." and that there "may be a coordinated campaign to prepare for a military strike on Iran."[94]

Professor at the University of San Francisco and Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project, Stephen Zunes, also claims that a military attack on Iran is being planned.[95]

On 8 May 2006, Ahmadinejad sent a personal letter to then-President Bush to propose "new ways" to end Iran's nuclear dispute.[96] U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley both reviewed the letter and dismissed it as a negotiating ploy and publicity stunt that did not address U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program.[97] A few days later at a meeting in Jakarta, Ahmadinejad said, "the letter was an invitation to monotheism and justice, which are common to all divine prophets."[98]

President George W. Bush insisted on August 31, 2006 that "there must be consequences" for Iran's defiance of demands that it stop enriching uranium. He said "the world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran."[99]

Ahmadinejad invited Bush to a debate at the United Nations General Assembly, which was to take place on 19 September 2006. The debate was to be about Iran's right to enrich uranium. The invitation was promptly rejected by White House spokesman Tony Snow, who said "There's not going to be a steel-cage grudge match between the President and Ahmadinejad."[100]

Columbia University students protesting against the university's decision to invite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the university campus.

On November 2006, Ahmadinejad wrote an open letter to the American people,[101] representing some of his anxieties and concerns. He stated that there is an urgency to have a dialog because of the activities of the US administration in the Middle East, and that the US is concealing the truth about current realities.[102]

In early April 2007, Michael T. Klare claimed that President Bush had already taken the decision to attack Iran. He said that references to Iran by U.S. president George W. Bush in major televised speeches on January 10, January 23 and February 14, 2007 establish that President Bush "has already decided an attack is his only option and the rest is a charade he must go through to satisfy his European allies". Klare claims that in these speeches in particular, President Bush has developed a casus belli in order to prepare public opinion for an attack, focused on three reasons: claims that Iran supports attacks on US troops in Iraq, claims that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and claims that Iran could become a dominant power in the region and destabilise pro-US governments in Israel, Jordan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and thereby endanger oil supplies.[103]

In September 2007 Ahmadinejad visited New York to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. Prior to this he gave a speech at Columbia University, where the university president Lee Bollinger used his introduction to excoriate the Iranian leader as everything from a "cruel and petty dictator" to "astonishingly uneducated." Taking questions from Columbia faculty and students who attended his address, Ahmadinejad answered a query about the treatment of gays in Iran by saying: "We don't have homosexuals like in your country. We don't have that in our country. We don't have this phenomenon; I don't know who's told you we have it." An aide later claimed that he was misrepresented and was actually saying that "compared to American society, we don't have many homosexuals".[104]

In 2007 Ahmadinejad while visiting New York City was rebuffed by city officails from laying wreath at the World Trade Center. In an interview, he was quoted as saying

"Many innocent people were killed there. Some of those people were American citizens, obviously," Ahmadinejad said.

"We obviously are very much against any terrorist action and any killing. And also we are very much against any plots to sow the seeds of discord among nations. Usually, you go to these sites to pay your respects. And also to perhaps to air your views about the root causes of such incidents." P The interviewer told him the American people believed his country exported terrorism and would be offended if he had a "photo op" at Ground Zero.

he replied

"Well, I'm amazed. How can you speak for the whole of the American nation?" the wily leader countered. "You are representing a media and you're a reporter. The American nation is made up of 300 million people. There are different points of view over there."


In a speech given in April 2008, Ahmadinejad described the September 11, 2001 attacks as a "suspect event." Saying all that had happened was, "a building collapsed." He claimed that the death toll was never published, that the victims' names were never published, and that the attacks were used subsequently as pretext for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.[106]

In October 2008, President Ahmadinejad expressed his happiness of 2008 global economic crisis and what he called "collapse of liberalism". He said the West has been driven to deadend and that Iran was proud "to put an end to liberal economy".[107] Ahmadinejad used a September 2008 speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations to assert the American empire is soon going to end without specifying how. "The American empire in the world is reaching the end of its road, and its next rulers must limit their interference to their own borders," Ahmadinejad said.[108]

U.S. military revises plans

In March 2005. the U.S. revised its doctrine on when to use nuclear weapons to include preemptive or possibly preventive use on non-nuclear states.[citation needed]

In August 2005, Philip Giraldi, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, claimed that US Vice President Dick Cheney had instructed STRATCOM to prepare a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States... [including] a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons... not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States. The reason cited for the attack to use mini-nukes is that the targets are hardened or are deep underground and would not be destroyed by non-nuclear warheads.[109]

Claims that the US plans to use nuclear weapons in an attack on Iran have also been made in 2005 and 2006 by Jorge Hirsch,[110][111] in January 2006 by Michel Chossudovsky,[112] and by the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran[113] and in April 2006 by Seymour M. Hersh.[114]

On April 18, 2006, on C-SPAN, in response to a journalist's questioning, "Sir, when you talk about Iran, and you talk about, how you have to have diplomatic efforts, you often say all options are on the table. Does that include, the possibility of a nuclear strike, is that something that your administration has plans about?", US president George W. Bush replied "All options are on the table".[115]

Iran's nuclear program

Since 2003, the United States has alleged that Iran has a program to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is aimed only at generating electricity. The United States' official position on Iran is that "a nuclear-armed Iran is not acceptable" and that "all options" - including the unilateral use of force and first-strike nuclear weapons - are "on the table";[116] however, they have denied that the United States is preparing for an imminent strike. This came while three European countries, the United Kingdom (UK), France and Germany (the "EU-3") attempted to negotiate a cessation of nuclear enrichment activities by Iran, which America claims are aimed at producing nuclear weapons.[117]

In June 2005, the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohamed ElBaradei should either toughen his stance on Iran or fail to be chosen for a third term as IAEA head.[118] Both the United States and Iran are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The United States (and other official nuclear weapons states) were alleged during the May 2005 month-long meeting on the NPT to be in violation of the NPT through Article VI, which requires them to disarm, which as of 2006 they have not done, while the IAEA has stated that Iran is in violation of a Safeguards Agreement related to the NPT, due to insufficient reporting of nuclear material, its processing and its use.[119] Under Article IV, the treaty gives non-nuclear states the right to develop civilian nuclear energy programs.[120]

From 2003 to early 2006, tensions between the US and Iran have successively mounted even while International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of sensitive nuclear industry sites in Iran have continued, in line with an Additional Protocol to the NPT which Iran voluntarily adhered to.

On March 8, 2006, US and EU-3 representatives noted that Iran has enough unenriched uranium hexafluoride gas to make up to ten atomic bombs if it were to be highly enriched, and adding it was "time for the Security Council to act".[121] The unenriched uranium cannot be used either in the Bushehr reactor, which is a pressurized water reactor, nor in atomic bombs, unless it becomes enriched.

The United States predicted a quick vote on a third resolution imposing sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program as it begins to build a case against Iran's central bank for proliferation activities on February 25, 2008.[122]

The role of petroleum

Escalating tensions between the United States and Iran have been attributed to the evolving state of energy geopolitics, and the future of energy security for much of the Western world. This includes ultimate control over the Straits of Hormuz, through which tankers ferry close to 40 percent of the world's daily oil needs.[123]

An armed confrontation between the United States and Iran, and an Israeli entry into such a conflict, may embroil the entire region in a state of war, possibly leading to new nation-states carved along ethno-religious lines. This may ensure stable oil supplies in the future and prevent a hyperextension of the ongoing ethno-religious strife in Iraq.[123]

Also, Iran has announced plans to create a new International Oil futures exchange, possibly called the Iranian Oil Bourse, trading oil priced in euros and possibly other currencies, rather than dollars, as used by other oil markets. Some fear that this would have significant negative impact on the strength of the US Dollar on international currency markets. The opening of the exchange had been planned for March 20, 2006, but has been delayed.[124]

Bush's "wave of democracy"

In political speeches leading up to and following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush has claimed that his administration's goal in the invasion was to bring democracy to countries in the Middle East and to oppose islamofascism.The anti-Iraq War World Tribunal on Iraq and others have doubted the sincerity of this motive, pointing to a List of killed, threatened or kidnapped Iraqi academics systematic campaign against academia in Iraq during the US occupation of Iraq. Robert Dreyfuss, author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, claims that the US actions in the region have in fact supported, and are continuing to support, "islamofascism" rather than oppose it.[125]

Iran fears of attack by the US

Paul Pillar, former CIA official who led the preparation of all National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) on Iran from 2000 to 2005 in his role as national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, told the InterPress Service that all of the NIEs on Iran during that period

"addressed the Iranian fears of U.S. attack explicitly and related their desire for nuclear weapons to those fears" and stated "Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons."

Another former CIA official, Ellen Laipson, said that "the Iranian fear of an attack by the United States has long been 'a standard element' in NIEs on Iran."[126] In 2005, the United States passed the Iran Freedom and Support Act, which appropriated millions of dollars for human rights NGOs working in that country. Several politicians in both countries have claimed the Act is a "stepping stone to war,"[87] although the Act contains a specific prohibition on the use of force towards Iran.

Domestic politics in the U.S.

Within the United States, the now-unpopular war in Iraq[127] has taken a toll on the willingness of the American public to accept another war. A CBS poll taken in June 2006 showed that only 21 percent of Americans supported military action against Iran. Fifty-five percent favored diplomacy and 19 percent said Iran was not a threat to the United States.[128]

Some groups have begun organizing sentiment in opposition to an attack on Iran.[129] This pressure to rule out a military attack on Iran may have an impact on the actions that the United States government will be willing to take with regard to Iran.

Calls for diplomacy

In May 2007, Iran's top diplomat Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki declared that Iran is "ready to talk" to the United States. There is significant work to be done before the United States will drop a 28 year old freeze on diplomatic relations, but the comments mark the furthest diplomatic advance made by Iran in recent memory.[130]

U.S. military operations inside Iran

Scott Ritter has stated that CIA-backed bombings had been undertaken in Iran by the Mujahideen e-Khalq (MEK or MKO), an opposition group listed by the United States Department of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.[84] In April 2006, The Raw Story cited an unnamed UN source "close to" the United Nations Security Council stating that former MEK members had been used as a proxy by the US for "roughly a year" inside of Iranian territory. An intelligence source quoted by The Raw Story said that the former MEK members were made to "swear an oath to Democracy and resign from the MEK" before being incorporated into US military units and retrained for their operations in Iran.[86]

Following the killing of 24 Iranian security forces in Iran in March 2006 by the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PEJAK), an opposition group closely linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is listed by the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, Dennis Kucinich claimed in a letter to George W. Bush on April 18, 2006, that PEJAK is being supported and coordinated by the US, since it is based in Iraq, which is under the de facto control of US military forces.[87] In November 2006, journalist Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker supported this claim, stating that the US military and the Israelis are giving the group equipment, training, and targeting information in order to create internal pressures in Iran.[131]

Stratfor (as cited by Media Lens) claimed that an attack inside Iran against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps occurred in early 2007: "this latest attack against IRGC guards was likely carried out by armed Baloch nationalists who have received a boost in support from Western intelligence agencies".[132] On April 3, 2007, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) published a claim that Jundullah, a militant Islamic organization that is based in Waziristan, Pakistan and affiliated with Al-Qaeda and has claimed to kill about 400 Iranian soldiers while losing an indeterminable amount of terrorists,[133] has been supported by the USA since 2005.[134]

The U.S. has escalated its covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources.[135] The president sought up to four hundred million dollars for these covert military operations, which were described in a secret Presidential Finding and are designed to destabilize Iran's religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since 2007. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have been significantly expanded in 2008.[135]

2006 Sanctions against Iranian institutions

The United States, pushing for international sanctions against Tehran over its atomic ambitions, accuses Iran of providing logistical and financial support to Shi'a militias in Iraq, something Tehran denies.[136] The U.S. government imposed sanctions on an Iranian bank on September 8, 2006, barring it from dealing with U.S. financial institutions, even indirectly. The move against Bank Saderat Iran was announced by the undersecretary for treasury, who accused the major state-owned bank in Iran of transferring funds for alleged terrorist groups, including Hezbollah. While Iranian financial institutions are barred from directly accessing the U.S. financial system, they are permitted to do so indirectly through banks in other countries. This move was explicitly aimed at Bank Saderat, which the undersecretary said had transferred 50 million U.S. dollars directly from Iran to a Hezbollah-controlled organsiation, and does not apply to other Iranian banks. He said the U.S. government will also persuade European banks and financial institutions not to deal with Iran.[137]

Iran and Iraq

The United States Senate passed a resolution warning Iran about attacks in Iraq. On 26 September 2007, the United States Senate passed a resolution 76-22 and labeled an arm of the Iranian military as a terrorist organization.

The U.S. claim that Iran is backing Shiite militias in Iraq and supplying them with arms, in order to wage a "proxy war' on the U.S. It also claims that 170 Americans have died in this "proxy war." Iran denies these charges. In May 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported that both the U.S. military spokesman and Iraqi officials backed off from some of the accusations against Iran when U.S. experts examined weapons and munitions recovered from Shiite militias and found that they did not originate in Iran.[138] On the positive side, the American and Iranian ambassadors in Iraq have met, and have engaged in direct talks. However, tensions are still high over this issue, as the U.S. raid on the Iranian consulate in Irbil (to be discussed subsequently) shows.

2007 US raids Iran Consulate General

The US armed forces raided the Iranian Consulate General located in Erbil, Iraq and arrested five staff members. Sources said that the US forces first landed their helicopters around the building, then broke through the consulate’s gate, disarmed the guards, confiscated some documents and certain objects, arrested five staff members, and then left for an undisclosed location. People living in the neighborhood were told they could not leave their homes. Three people who left their homes were arrested, and a wife of one of these men confirmed to reporters that the US forces arrested and took her husband away for leaving the house.

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mikhail Kamynin said that the raid was absolutely unacceptable and was a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The Kurdistan Regional Government also expressed their shock and disapproval of the raid.

At a hearing on Iraq on January 11, 2007, United States Senator Joseph Biden (Delaware), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the Bush Administration did not have the authority to send US troops on cross-border raids. Biden said, "I believe the present authorization granted the president to use force in Iraq does not cover that, and he does need congressional authority to do that. I just want to set that marker."[139] After the meeting, Biden sent a follow-up letter to the White House asking for an explanation from the Bush Administration on the matter.

Also on January 11, 2007, Iran's foreign ministry official sent a letter to Iraq's foreign ministry asking Iraq to stop the Bush Administration from interfering with Iraq-Iran relations, and has protested the raid on its consulate general. The official said, "We expect the Iraqi government to take immediate measures to set the aforesaid individuals free and to condemn the US troopers for the measure. Following up on the case and releasing the arrestees is a responsibility of primarily the Iraqi government and then the local government and officials of the Iraqi Kurdistan."

2007 Iran willing to improve relations with U.S

It was said on May 6, 2007 that Iran was willing, under the right conditions, to improve its chilly relations with the U.S. despite having passed up the opportunity for direct talks at the Iraq conference in Sharm El-Sheikh from May 3, 2007. It was a violent courtship, marked by increased mutual tensions caused by Iranians' fiery statements against the U.S. policy in Iraq, accusing it of terrorism and demanding that a timetable be set for the withdrawal of its troops. The conference was seen by the Americans as an opportunity to get closer to the Iranians and exchange gestures in a public forum.[140]Need Citation, the link is dead.

Claims of arms smuggling against Iran

A former Iranian diplomat, Nosratollah Tajik, was accused by the United States of arms smuggling. He was set to appear in court on April 19, 2007.[141]

The Bush administration has accused Iran of supporting the Iraqi insurgency, and claims that an Iranian "proxy war" has killed over 170 American troops in Iraq.[citation needed] The Iranian government denies these claims, and Iraqi prime minister Nouri Maliki has praised Iran for its positive and constructive stance on Iraq, including providing security and fighting terrorism.[142] The Iranian and the American ambassadors to Baghdad have held direct talks with each other.[citation needed]

Possible IRGC terrorist designation by the United States

In August 2007, the Washington Post reported the U.S. government was considering labeling the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) a "terrorist organization." This possible decision to designate the Guard as a terrorist group, according to Bush administration officials,[143] was based on

...the group's growing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its support for extremists throughout the Middle East.

The designation of the Revolutionary Guard would be made under Executive Order 13224, which allows the United States to block the assets of those designated as terrorists and to disrupt operations by foreign businesses that "provide support, services or assistance to, or otherwise associate with, terrorists."[144]

President Karzai of Afghanistan has argued that Iran is "a helper and a solution"[145] for Afghanistan while Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq has argued that Iran has a "positive and constructive" role in helping the Iraqi government improve security in his wartorn nationDead Link.[146] When asked if Iran is supplying weapons to the Taliban by Voice of America, a U.S.-funded outlet, current president of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, laughed and said the US doesn't want Iran to be friends with Afghanistan. "What is the reason they are saying such things?" asked Ahmadinejad.[147]

Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Center for American Progress, said after the move "the only way you could get a nuclear deal is as part of a grand bargain, which at this point is completely out of reach."[148] Michael Rubin, a senior research fellow with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said he feared the designation "might exculpate the rest of the regime when, in reality, the IRGC's activities cannot be separated from the state leadership of Supreme Leader Khamenei or President Ahmadinejad".[149] The Iranian daily Kayhan quoted the commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards as threatening to deal heavier blows in the future against the United States in response to the designation.[150] Mohammad Khatami, former Reforms Front President of Iran hoped to "remind those in the U.S. Congress or elsewhere working for the benefit of the American nation to stand against these measures or the wall between the two countries grow taller and thicker".[151]

This would be the first time official armed units of a sovereign state are included in the list of banned terrorist groups.[152] Kaveh L Afrasiabi, a former consultant to the UN's program of Dialogue Among Civilizations and a consultant to CBS' 60 Minutes,[153] states in Asia Times Online that the move has possible legal implication. "Under international law, it could be challenged as illegal, and untenable, by isolating a branch of the Iranian government for selective targeting. This is contrary to the 1981 Algiers Accord's pledge of non-interference in Iran's internal affairs by the US government," Afrasiabi writes.[154] News leaks about the prospective designation have greatly worried European governments and private sector firms, which could theoretically face prosecution in American courts for working with the Guards.[155]

After a vote in the United States Senate urging the United States Department of State to label the Guards as terrorists, the Iranian Parliament responded by approving a nonbinding resolution labeling the CIA and the U.S. Army "terrorist organizations". The resolution cited U.S. involvement in dropping nuclear bombs in Japan in World War II, using depleted uranium munitions in the Balkans, bombing and killing Iraqi civilians, and torturing terror suspects in prisons among others.[156]

Release of detained Iranian diplomats and citizens

In November 9, 2007, American forces in Iraq released two Iranian diplomats after 305 days[157] as well as 7 other Iranian citizens. The two Iranian officials were captured in "2007 US raids Iran Consulate General". The other seven Iranians being freed had been picked up in different parts of the country and held for periods ranging between three months and three years.[158] Here is the list of those who were released:[157]

  • Mousa Chegini
  • Hamid Reza Askari
  • Adel Moradi
  • Mohammad Ali Ahmadi
  • Ebrahim Mowlaei
  • Raed Saeedi
  • Azam Karami
  • Habib Ghorbani
  • Mohammad Jafar Makki Mohammad

"The release followed a careful review of individual records to determine if they posed a security threat to Iraq, and if their detention was of continued intelligence value," the American officials said in a statement.[158]

11 Iranian diplomats and citizens are still kept by American forces.

2008 Naval dispute

A series of naval stand-offs between Iranian speedboats and US warships in the Strait of Hormuz was alleged by the U.S. government to have occurred in December 2007 and January 2008. US officials accused Iran of harassing and provoking their naval vessels, but Iran vehemently denies this. The U.S. presented its version of the incident through a threatening audio recording (in English) from a disputed source superimposed on, in the first release to TV channels, video footage of an alleged incident. Persian-speakers and Iranians have told The Washington Post that the accent in the American recording does not sound Iranian. Iran has accused the U.S. of creating a "media fuss" and has released its own abridged video recording of the incident, which does not reveal any threats.[159][160]

There has been significant confusion as to the source of the threatening radio transmissions. According to the Navy Times, the incident could have been caused by a locally famous heckler known as the "Filipino monkey". Evidence for this includes that the threatening voice sounds different from that of the Iranian officer. The U.S. Navy itself is unsure of where the threatening message was from.[161].[162][163]

2008 meeting in Baghdad

The meeting in Baghdad between Iranian and American diplomats, was "the first formal direct contact after decades during which neither country has been willing to talk to the other."[164]

2008 House proposes naval blockade

United States House of Representatives Congressional Resolution 362[165] calls for a naval blockade of the Strait of Hormuz. This resolution, as of June 2, 2008, has 146 cosponsors.[166]

2008 US initiates covert action against Iran

In 2008, New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh detailed US covert action plans against Iran involving CIA, DIA and Special Forces.[167] According to Hersh, the United States is materially supporting the following groups which are performing acts of violence inside Iran:

  • Baluchi dissidents. Hersh writes:
The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me
“They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.”

Journalist David Ignatius of the Washington Post asserts that U.S. covert action "appears to focus on political action and the collection of intelligence rather than on lethal operations".[168] Iranian commentator Ali Eftagh wrote in the Washington Post that the covert actions that Hersh is reporting are being made public by the Bush administration as a form of psychological warfare.[169]

2008 US-Iran nuclear negotiations depend on perception of respect

Commentator Kaveh L Afrasiabi in the Asia Times notes that success in US-Iran nuclear negotiations depends on Iranian perception of US respect.[170]

2008 U.S. rejected Israeli plea to attack Iran

The New York Times reported in January 2009 that Israel approached the White House in early 2008 with requests for an attack on Iran's main nuclear complex, which the Bush administration rejected.[171]

U.S. experts urge Obama to rethink Iran policy

The panel of 20 U.S. experts, who include academics and former U.S. ambassadors, warned against a military attack on Iran and called for unconditional negotiations, saying it was the only viable option to break "a cycle of threats and defiance". The panel includes former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan James Dobbins, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering, and a host of Middle East scholars from U.S. universities. They called on the United States to replace calls for regime change with a long-term strategy, allow Iran a "place at the table" in shaping the future of Iraq and Afghanistan, offer security assurances in the nuclear talks and re-energize the Arab-Israeli peace process.[172]

Obama Administration

On November 6, 2008 (two days after the 2008 US Presidential Election), President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad congratulated Barack Obama, the newly elected President of the United States, and said that he "Welcomes basic and fair changes in U.S. policies and conducts, I hope you will prefer real public interests and justice to the never-ending demands of a selfish minority and seize the opportunity to serve people so that you will be remembered with high esteem". It is the first congratulatory message to a new elected President of the United States by an Iranian President since the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis.[173]

In his inaugural speech, President Obama said:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Perhaps in response, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech with a list of grievances, including the 1953 coup, support for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, and the Iran Air Flight 655 incident.[174]

In March 2009, an official delegation of Hollywood actors and filmmakers met with their Iranian counterparts in Tehran as a symbol of US-Iran relations, but Javad Shamghadri, the Arts Adviser to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, rejected it and said "Representatives of Iran’s film industry should only have an official meeting with representatives of the academy and Hollywood if they apologize for the insults and accusations against the Iranian nation during the past 30 years."[175]

On March 19, 2009, the beginning of the festival of Nowruz, Obama spoke directly to the Iranian people in a video saying "The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right - but it comes with real responsibilities" [176]

Roxana Saberi and detained diplomats

In April 2009, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi had been sentenced to 8 years in prison after convicting her of spying for the United States.[177] However, after spending four months in prison, she was released in May. A court dropped the spying charge against her. It claimed she had a classified document, a charge she denied.[178]

Three months later, on 9 July, US released five Iranian diplomats who had been detained and kept in Iraqi prison since January 2007. These men, identified as Mohsen Bagheri, Mahmoud Farhadi, Majid Ghaemi, Majid Dagheri and Abbas Jami, were handed over to Iraqi authorities.[179] Some analysts say it was a part of hostage exchange deal between Iran and US.[180] However, the U.S. State Department said the release was not part of a deal with Tehran but was necessary under a US-Iraqi security pact.[181]

Iranian presidential elections 2009

The presidential elections and surprising landslide win of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which led to fraud allegations and widespread protests, have provoked very limited US comments. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated, "[l]ike the rest of the world, we were impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among young Iranians. We continue to monitor the entire situation closely, including reports of irregularities".[182] On 12 June—prior to the declaration of the winner—President Obama reacting to a question on the elections stated "We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran".[183]

Later, Vice President Biden said, "[i]t sure looks like the way they're suppressing speech, the way they're suppressing crowds, the way in which people are being treated, that there's some real doubt".[184] On 15 June, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly declared that the US was "deeply troubled by the reports of violent arrests and possible voting irregularities."[185]

Detention of U.S. Hikers over Kurdish Border

Three American hikers were arrested on Friday, July 31 in Iran after they crossed into Iranian territory. Reports say the hikers accidentally crossed into Iran while hiking between Halabja and Ahmad Awa in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. The incident is causing additional tension with the U.S.[186]

Economic relations

The volume of trade between Iran and the United States hit $623 million in 2008. According to the US Census Bureau, the value of US exports to Iran reached $93 million in 2007 and increased to $537 million in 2008. However US imports from Iran decreased to $86 million in 2008, while the figure stood at $148 million in 2007.[187]dead link[188] This data does not include trade through third countries to circumvent the trade embargo.

Top US exports to Iran include cigarettes ($73 million), corn ($68 million); chemical wood pulp, soda or sulphate ($64 million); soybeans ($43 million); medical equipment ($27 million); vitamins ($18 million); and vegetable seeds ($12 million). The value of cigarettes sold to Iran was more than twice that of the No. 2 category on the export list, vaccines, serums and blood products ($73 million).[188] In 2010 US exports to Iran plunged by 50% to $281.8 million.[189]

See also


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  2. ^ Reading Khamenei: The World View of Iran's Most Powerful Leader, by Karim Sadjadpour March 2008 p.20

    It is natural that our Islamic system should be viewed as an enemy and an intolerable rival by such an oppressive power as the United States, which is trying to establish a global dictatorship and further its own interests by dominating other nations and trampling on their rights. It is also clear that the conflict and confrontation between the two is something natural and unavoidable. [Address by Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, to students at Shahid Beheshti University, May 12, 2003]

  3. ^ The New Republic, Charm Offensive by Laura Secor April 1, 2009

    To give up this trump card--the non-relationship with the United States, the easy evocation of an external bogeyman--would be costly for the Iranian leadership. It would be a Gorbachevian signal that the revolution is entering a dramatically new phase--one Iran's leaders cannot be certain of surviving in power.

  4. ^ a b c The Middle East and the United States: A Historical and Political Reassessment, David W. Lesch, 2003, ISBN 0813339405, p.52
  5. ^ Ibid. p.83
  6. ^ Zirinsky M.P. Imperial Power and dictatorship: Britain and the rise of Reza Shah 1921-1926. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 24, 1992. p.646
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    • The Memoirs of Anthony Eden are also explicit about Britain's role in putting Reza Khan in power.
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  12. ^ Gasiorowski writing in Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran, Edited by Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne, Syracuse University Press, 2004, p.273
  13. ^ Gasiorowski writing in Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran, Edited by Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne, Syracuse University Press, 2004, p.243
  14. ^ Gasiorowski writing in Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran, Edited by Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne, Syracuse University Press, 2004, p.230-1
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  189. ^


  • Gareth Porter, Bush's Iran/Argentina Terror Frame-Up, The Nation, posted January 18, 2008 (web only), [5].
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  • Cirincione, Joe & Andy Grotto: "Contain and Engage: A New Strategy for Resolving the Nuclear Crisis with Iran. The Center for American Progress, 2007.
  • Wright, Steven. The United States and Persian Gulf Security: The Foundations of the War on Terror, Ithaca Press, 2007 ISBN 978-0863723216
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  • Jentleson Bruce, With friends like these: Reagan, Bush, and Saddam, 1982-1990. New York, W. W. Norton, 1994.
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External links

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