From the shooting down of an Iranian commercial airline to the development of Iran’s nuclear program, below is a timeline of the historical moment’s post 1979 that have formed the present-day relationship.
January 1979: Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi flees Iran
The US-backed Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, is forced to leave the country on 16 January following months of demonstrations against his rule by secular and religious opponents. Two weeks later, Islamic religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who referred to America as the “Great Satan”, returns from exile.
April 1979: Islamic Republic of Iran formed
Following a referendum, the Islamic Republic of Iran is proclaimed.
November 1979: The Iran hostage crisis:
Angered by the Carter administration allowing the recently deposed Shah into the United States, the revolutionary group Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line occupied the American embassy in Tehran and took 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days. On April 24, 1980, a failed rescue – Operation Eagle Claw – resulted in the deaths of eight American servicemen and one Iranian civilian.
The crisis ended with the signing of the Algiers Accords in Algeria on January 19, 1981.
April 1980: The end of diplomatic relations
The United States end diplomatic relations with Iran, a break which has yet to be restored.
1983: Hizbollah bombings
United States implicates Hizbollah, an Iranian movement formed at the time of the Iranian Revolution, in terrorist attacks against the US. Attacks included the United States embassy bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed 17 Americans, and the Beirut barracks bombing which killed 241 US peace keepers.
1986: Exchange of weapons
The US provided weapons to Iran, reportedly to fund anti-communist Contras militants in Nicaragua to help free US hostages held by Hizbollah in Lebanon. Reagan administration confirmed that weapons had been transferred to Iran but denied they were part of an exchange for hostages.
1988: Iranian Airbus shot down
US Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down commercial airline Iranian Airbus A300B2, killing 290 civilians from six nations, including 66 children. The US says the Airbus A300 was mistaken for a fighter jet that was outside the civilian air corridor and was not responding to radio calls.
April 1995: Clinton administration embargo
A total embargo on dealings with Iran by American companies was imposed by Bill Clinton.
January 1998: Mohammed Khatami elected
Newly elected Iranian President Mohammad Khatami called for a „dialogue of civilisations“ with the United States in a CNN interview based on similarities between American and Iranian quests for freedom
January 2002: “Axis of Evil”
President George W Bush gave his infamous speech describing Iran, along with North Korea and Iraq, as an “Axis of evil”.
The president warned that the proliferation of long-range missiles developed by these countries constituted terrorism and threatened the United States.
2002: Uranium development
Iranian opposition group reveals that Iran is developing nuclear facilities including a uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water reactor at Arak. The US accuses Iran of a clandestine nuclear weapons programme, which Iran denies.
June 2005: Tensions over atomic energy
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggests that the head of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, should either „toughen his stance on Iran“ or not be chosen for a third term.
August 2005: Ahmadinejad becomes president
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voted to become Iran’s president
United States passed the Iran Freedom and Support Act, which appropriated millions of dollars for human rights Non-governmental organisations working in Iran.
May 2006: Ahmadinejad reaches out to President Bush
Ahmadinejad sent a personal letter to President Bush to propose „new ways“ to end Iran’s nuclear dispute. Both Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley dismissed it as a negotiating ploy and publicity stunt that did not address American concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
August 2006: UN debate invite turned down
Ahmadinejad invite to President Bush to a debate at the UN General Assembly was rejected by the White House.
September 2006: Financial sanctions
US government imposed sanctions on Bank Saderat Iran barring it from direct or indirect dealings with American financial institutions due to its reported connections with Hizbollah. Further sanctions on the financial sector were imposed by the US and EU in 2012 over Iran’s nuclear development.
May 2007: Iranian diplomat “ready to talk”
Iran’s top diplomat Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki stated that Iran is „ready to talk“ to the United States.
November 2007: Iranian diplomats released
American armed forces released two Iranian diplomats as well as seven other Iranian citizens after 305 days captured in the raid of the Iranian Consulate General located in Erbil, Iraq.
April 2008: Ahmadinejad 9/11 comments
Ahmadinejad described the September 11 attacks as a „suspect event“, saying that all that happened was that „a building collapsed“.
November 2008: Barack Obama elected president
Ahmadinejad issued the first congratulatory message to a newly elected American president since 1979: „Iran 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“.
2010: Walk out at UN speech
During a 2010 speech to the UN, Ahmadinejad sparks walkouts after he claims that most people believe the US government were behind the 9/11 attacks.
2013: First phone call between US and Iranian heads of state for 30 years
Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, held a phone call with President Barack Obama on a trip to the UN forum in New York – the first conversation between US and Iranian heads of state for 30 years. The US president said they both had expressed their determination to solve the long-running dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme.
November 2014: President Obama sends ’secret letter‘ to leader of Iran
US President Barack Obama is said to have written a secret letter to Iran’s supreme leader describing a shared interest in fighting IS. The president also urged Ayatollah Ali Khamenei towards a nuclear agreement. It is the fourth time President Obama has written to the Iranian leader since taking office in 2009.