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The Relationship Between the U.S. and Iran

By Eman Hamed

Edited by Lianna Avanessian

On January 3rd, 2020, memes posted with humorous but panicked captions about the commencement of a “World War III” broke the internet. This was after United States President Donald Trump assassinated Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani. The President of the United States deployed a drone strike to kill the essential leader of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). This act created anti-American sentiment among Iranian nationals and intensified obstructive international relations between the U.S. and Iran. To understand the current state of relations and those in the near future, analysts from the Council on Foreign Relations rely on the past to reflect on the causes of the international conflict.

Before January 3rd

Admittedly, prior to the events on January 3rd, relations between the U.S. and Iran were not the best. In 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) orchestrated an overthrow of Iran’s then Prime Minister Mossadeq, a secular leader who had sought to nationalize Iran's oil industry. In 1979, The US-backed Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, was forced to leave the country as the Iranian Revolution rose.

Two weeks later, Islamic religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile and took power, perpetuating violence and human rights violations. Soon following was the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis, where the U.S. embassy in Tehran was seized by protesters in November 1979 and American hostages were held inside for 444 days.

For some time, relations remained steadily substandard until 1988, when they worsened as an Iranian passenger plane was shot down by an American warship, killing 290 Iranian pilgrims on their way to Mecca. Then, in 2002, in his State of the Union address, President George Bush denounced Iran as part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and North Korea, a notion that progressed as Iran developed nuclear facilities, including a uranium enrichment plant.

The U.S. accused Iran of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, which incited a decade of the UN closely monitoring Iranian military and scientific activity. Several rounds of sanctions were then imposed by the UN, the U.S., and the European Union, and in turn, it caused Iran's currency to lose two-thirds of its value in two years.

And finally, most recently before Soleimani’s unideal death, the conflict in the Persian Gulf. In May 2018, Donald Trump reinstated economic sanctions against Iran and threatened to do the same to countries and firms that continued buying its oil. Iran's economy fell into a deep recession as a result. Relations between the US and Iran then exacerbated in May 2019, when Iran began rolling back key commitments under the Nuclear Deal, a plan that prevents Iran from building and implementing nuclear weapons and technology.

As of 2020

As the relationship became more strained by Soleimani’s murder, the UN intervened with peace talks. As the United Nations News Service reports, the UN determined both the U.S. and Iran undermined the Nuclear Deal and only validating the deal’s importance can ensure civil relations.


Knowing the intrinsic history between these two countries and understanding the UN call for serious commitments to the Nuclear Deal, the current relationship between Iran and the U.S. can be best rectified through working toward honoring the policy, together.

Sources Cited: › us-iraq-security-blast-relations-timelin › sgp › crs › mideast

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