Coups to Soleimani killing, a look at US-Iran relations over the years

Demonstrators hold placards depicting Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, during a protest against killing of Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force | Reuters
On January 3 2020, tensions between US and Iran reached new lows after a US strike left Iran’s top army commander Major General Qassem Soleimani dead.

As the world watches the crisis unfold, here’s a brief history of the conflict-ridden relations between the two countries over the years:

1941: With an eye on containing the threat of expanding Nazi influence, Britain and the USSR invade western Iran. 

In September, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi takes over as the last Shah (emperor) of Iran. 

1949: After the end of World War II, pro-West and pro-USSR groups target Iran’s oil reserves. 

1951: Mohammed Mossadegh, a nationalist and a secular leader, is elected prime minister under the Shah. The British are left unhappy over his attempts to nationalize the country’s oil industry.

1953: In March, US’s CIA begins plotting regime change in Iran to bring to power a pro-US government. By mid-April the CIA study concludes that a coup in Iran is possible. US President Eisenhower gives final approval to the planned coup along with UK’s Prime Minister. A failed coup attempt ensues for the rest of the year. By 1954, Mossadegh is overthrown and power under the Shah is consolidated.

1963-64: Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is exiled to Turkey following his arrest over criticism of the Shah’s relationship with US.

1978: Ayatollah Khomeini establishes an opposition from Paris. 

1979: Iranian revolution takes place. The US-backed regime of Shah steps down on 16 January after months of strikes and demonstrations by groups across the spectrum. Two weeks after the forced ouster, Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile. On April 1, the Islamic Republic of Iran is formed.

1979-81: Protesters seize the US embassy in Tehran in November. American diplomats and citizens, totaling 52, are held inside by force for 444 days. All hostages are freed in January 1981, the day Ronald Reagan takes over as President of the US.

From 1980-onwards, there is covert US support for the Iraqi regime during the Iraq-Iran war. This support is in the form of economic aid, ops training and military intelligence. While the US government officially denies it, there have been repeated accusations that the regime encouraged Saddam Hussein to invade Iran.

1985-86: The ‘Iran-Contra’ scandal, also referred to as the McFarlane affair, rocks the Reagan administrations second term. Top officials in the government facilitated a secret sale of arms to Iran, the proceeds of which were planned to be used to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. The US justification on the fiasco is that the deal was struck as a part of an operation to free American hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

1988: US Navy shoots down a scheduled Iranian passenger flight en route to Dubai from Tehran. All 290 passengers on board, including 66 children, die in the attack. Most of the victims are Iranians pilgrims on their way to Mecca. The US says it mistook the aircraft for a fighter jet.

2002: US President George Bush says Iran is a part of an ‘Axis of Evil’ along with North Korea and Iraq. His denouncement leads to large-scale outrage in the Persian nation.

In the same year, an Iranian opposition group claims Iran is establishing a nuclear programme which included the construction of a secret uranium enrichment plant and a heavy-water reactor. Iran agreed to inspections by nuclear watchdog IAEA. The IAEA is unable to uphold Iran’s claims. US and Europe press Iran to stop enriching uranium but talks fail to make any progress. In 2005, Iran is referred to the UNSC for non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. With this, the UNSC, the US, and the EU begin imposing sanctions on Iran. In just 2 years, Iran’s currency loses two-thirds of its value.

2013-16: Hassan Rouhani takes over as President of Iran. Helped by his moderate stance, the US and Iran have their first top-level dialogue in over 30 years. 

In 2015, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is signed between Iran and the P5 + 1 group, comprising the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany. Under the long-term agreement, Iran agrees to curbs on nuclear activities in return for lifting of some sanctions.

2018-19: Trump administration pulls out of the JCPOA in May 2018 and re-imposes sanctions against Iran and any country that continues to buy their oil. Iran’s economy sinks as a result of the crippling sanctions. 

Explosions jolt 6 oil tankers off the Gulf of Oman in May and June 2019. The US accuses Iran of carrying out these attacks. 

On 20 June, a US drone is shot down by Iran. Iran claims the drone was hovering over its territory while the US says it was over international waters. 

2020: Trump-ordered drone strike kills Iran’s Major General Qassem Soleimani. Tensions between the two countries reach a new fever pitch as Iran vows ‘revenge’ and pulls out of JCPOA.

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