Diplomacy vs. War: Iran and U.S. Relations at a Glance
Iran has been a country of coupes and revolutions, and a playing field for the imperial powers since WWI. This article summarizes Iran’s relationship with the West, starting from early 20th century until today.
Iran’s first revolution by Ahmad Shah Qajar was called the Persian Constitutional Revolution or Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905/1907), which established a parliament (majlis) to provide independence from Russian imperialism. This was also the first time a constitution was created in Iran.
The 1921 Coupe which was aided by the British at the time, against Imperial Russia’s influence in Iran, brought Shah Reza Pahlavi to power. Reza Kahn Pahlavi Shah deposed Ahmad Shah Qajar, the last Shah of the Qajar dynasty, and founded the Pahlavi dynasty. He established a constitutional monarchy that lasted until the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
20 years later, in August 1941, the Allied powers of WWII, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, invaded and occupied Iran after Reza Shah refused to allow Iranian territory to be used against Germany as a transportation corridor, and refused the Allies’ requests to expel German nationals residing in Iran. This refusal led to his forced abdication by the invading British in favor of his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who replaced his father as Shah on the throne on September 16, 1941.
10 years later, in April 1951, son Pahlavi appointed Mossadegh as Prime Minister after the Majlis (Parliament of Iran) nominated Mosaddegh by a vote of 79–12.
The Mossadegh administration introduced many social reforms supporting workers’ rights, education, and tried to nationalize the Iranian oil industry that was under the control of Britain and British oil companies since 1913.
On August 19, 1953, Prime Minister Mossadegh was removed from power by a coupe d’etat which was organized and carried out by the CIA under the name of Operation Ajax, at the request of MI6 which chose Iranian General Fazlollah Zahedi to replace him.
The same year, in 1953, the United States launched an “Atoms for Peace” program that supplied equipment and information to schools, hospitals, and research institutions within the U.S. and throughout the world. The first nuclear reactors in Iran were built under the program by American Machine and Foundry (AMF). The shah also reversed Mosaddegh’s nationalization programs.
10 years later in 1963, with U.S. assistance, Shah Pahlavi proceeded to carry out a national development program, called the White Revolution, that included construction of an expanded road, rail, and air network, a number of dam and irrigation projects, the eradication of diseases such as malaria, the encouragement and support of industrial growth, and land reform.
Our most recent memory of Iran is the 1979 Hostage Crisis where we saw our fellow Americans blindfolded and paraded around in a chaotic scene which we watched in horror and fright from a distance.
62 American Diplomats were kept hostage by the university students and Fedayeen militants who were supporters of the Islamic Revolution which took place in the same year. Their demands included the return of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was recently overthrown and exiled by the Islamic Revolution and fled to the USA for medical care as he claimed at the time.
On April 24, 1980, the United States military attempted a rescue operation named Operation Eagle Claw by using ships, but the rescue mission failed resulting with the deaths of eight American servicemen, one Iranian civilian, and the destruction of two air-crafts.
The hostage crisis ended with the “Algiers Accords” in January, 1981. The Accords included Iran’s immediate releasing of the hostages, the unfreezing of $7.9 billion of Iranian assets, a pledge by the United States that “it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs” and immunity from lawsuits Iran might have faced in America.
On September 1980, Iraq attacked Iran after a long history of border disputes, and fearing that the Islamic Revolution would inspire insurgency among Iraq’s long-suppressed Shia majority. The U.S. took sides with Iraq and provided intelligence and weapons to be used against Iran. The U.S. assistance to Iraq created more resentment and hate for Americans in Iran. The war ended in 1988, making it the longest lasting conventional war of 20th century.
The U.S. imposed crippling embargoes on Iran starting from 1995. The Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) that is the basis of the current sanctions against Iran, is a revised version of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) that was signed on August 5, 1996 (H.R. 3107, P.L. 104-172). The act was renamed in 2006 when the sanctions against Libya were terminated.
Fearing that Iran was working to develop Nuclear Weapons, the Clinton Administration planned a covert operation called Operation Merlin in 2000, to provide Iran with a flawed design for a component of a nuclear weapon in order to prove the existence of the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program. The CIA hired a defected Russian scientist with an engineering background in nuclear physics to make contact and deliver it to Iranians. The Bush Administration which took office in 2001 endorsed the operation and continued with its execution. However the operation backfired when the scientist noticed the flaws in the blueprints of the component and decided to quit the operation.
In 2004, another espionage disaster took place. A CIA officer sent information to one Iranian agent who was a double agent and exposed CIA’s entire spy network in Iran. According to the Guardian, CIA sources said that several of the Iranian agents were arrested and jailed, while the fates of some of the others is still unknown.
In 2006, Iran started negotiating its Nuclear Program for energy usage with P5+1 (Russia, China, France, United Kingdom, Germany and the U.S.A.) to ensure them that the country will not develop a Nuclear Weapon. Officially titled the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), it will be finalized by the end of July 2015.
Currently, the U.S. does not have an embassy in Iran but established an online/virtual embassy in 2011. Iran has an “interest section” –that’s what it is called- in the Pakistani embassy in Washington DC.