US-Iran Relations: A Timeline

In an age of heated Trump tweets and news echo-chambers, many fear that we are doomed to World War III. Potential conflict aside, the two countries have undergone countless changes in leadership and ideals, with each change altering the way they interact. Here is a list of some of the most important events and the implications they have for the future.

US President Donald Trump agrees to meeting with Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani at the G7 Summit (Source:

1856-83: First Ambassador Appointed to Each Country Respectively

Persia’s (Iran’s name as the time) Shah, Nassereddin Shah Qajar, appointed ambassador Shirazi to Washington D.C., marking the beginning of relations. Shortly after, the US sent Samuel G. W. Benjamin to Iran. Although a diplomatic relationship was established, the two countries had little connection and remained isolated from each other until the 20th century. At the dawn of the new century, Iran requested the United States’ help in rebuilding the countries finances after World War I.

1909-36: Persian Constitutional Revolution

Iranians memorialise Howard Baskerville (Source: Wikipedia)

At this time, Iran was experimenting with forms of government; imperialist Russia and the western world were planting their talons on the budding nation, with several conflicts breaking out across the region. Howard Baskerville, the “American Hero in Iran” fought imperialist forces during the revolution, dying alongside Iranians. His death was a symbol for friendship between the two regions. After this time period, there was relative peace among Iran and the United States.

1941: Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Last Shah of Iran, Comes into Power

Throughout his leadership, Pahlavi connected the West and Iran like no leader had done before. He opened up trade and established industrialisation, boosting the nation’s economy. Perhaps his most important accomplishment was his granting of women suffrage.

1960: OPEC is Formed

The Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries is created, boosting the economies of nations throughout the Middle East. The United States and the West now rely on these countries more than ever. This creates a sense of power and nationalism in Iran, as well as growing mistrust with the West.

1979: The Iranian Revolution/Hostage Crisis

Protestors storm the US embassy in Iran, 1979 (Source: Wikipedia)

This was a momentous event in the history of the two countries; the pro-American Shah had been removed from power, leaving anti-American Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in power. The United States was caught off guard, with a statement made just 6 months before the Revolution stating that “Iran is not in a revolutionary or even a ‘prerevolutionary’ situation.” The US quickly froze its assets in Iran, leaving $12 billion untouched until a treaty was established. A group of Muslim students, in fear of United States intervention, seized the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days.

1980: Carter Severs Ties

On April 7, President Carter severed diplomatic relations between the two countries. The US embassy was repurposed as an anti-American museum and a place for student organization The United States chose Switzerland as its protecting power, meaning that any interactions between the US and Iran would be overseen by the Swiss embassy. Iran chose Pakistan as its protecting power in the US.

1981-89: Reagan Administration

Reagan’s administration played a major role in influencing the events of the Iran-Iraq war, with the United States arming Iraq and eventually providing information to both sides in order to engineer a stalemate. This began a period in which the US implemented policy in order to favour the country economically. This included a flurry of sanctions against Iran that inflated prices of US goods and discouraged Iranian exports. During the anti-Communist purge of the era, the US warned Khomeini of Communist parties that had begun to spring up; the government responded with mass execution and banishment from the country. This period was one of US manipulation over the region, explaining the growing mistrust between the two countries.

2005-9: Bush Administration

In 2003, the United States received a message from the Swiss government hinting at an Iranian “Grand Bargain”. The message outlined the “aims of the [meeting]:” Iran was willing to accept the two-states approach in the Israel-Palestine conflict, ending material support to Palestinian opposition groups, taking decisive action against terrorism on Iranian territory, and ensuring that no nuclear weapons are produced. This discussion never occured, with many blaming an “inactive” Bush administration. Throughout the following six years, tensions rose and fell between the countries.

2009-17: Obama Administration

Source: US Energy Information Administration, International Energy Agency

Most significant of the events during this time period was the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), in which the United States agreed to lift sanctions against the country in exchange for giving up their nuclear capabilities (which Iran asserted was only for generating electricity).

2020: United States Killing of Qasem Soleimani/Retaliation from Iran

Trump’s response to the missile attacks (Source: Twitter)

United States forces assassinated Iranian General Soleimani in an organised airstrike in Baghdad on January 3rd. Soleimani was regarded as the second most powerful figure in Iran, behind Supreme Leader ayatollah Khamenei. In response to the assassination, Iran launched “Operation Martyr Soleimani”, sending 12-15 missiles toward US targets across the Middle East.

Productive conversations can only come out of a willingness to compromise

– SAS Student jonathan curley

As conflict arises, it is important that we stay informed and allow for constructive debate over these issues. SAS student Jonathan Curley states, “I’ve found it hard to stay informed on these issues because of news echo-chambers. Productive conversations can only come out of a willingness to compromise.” We must remember this as we attempt to better understand these conflicts.

Author: Cameron Ragsdale

Cameron Ragsdale is currently a senior at SAS and this is his first year reporting for The Eye. This is his 10th year in Singapore, having moved back and forth from Austin, TX, starting at the age of 6. He enjoys watching Breaking Bad for the 12th time and listening to music. You can reach him at

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