A Peoples’ Primer on U.S.-Iran Relations

U.S. military bases in the Middle East



  • 1908: Oil is discovered in Persia.
  • 1914: Russian, British, and German troops occupy the country during WWI.
  • 1935: Reza Shah had the official name of the country changed from Persia to Iran.
  • 1941: During WWII, Reza Shah is forced by the Allies to grant the throne to his son, Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi due to his alleged pro-German sentiments.
  • 1951, the Majlis (Parliament of Iran) named Mohammad Mossadegh as new prime minister by a vote of 79–12, who shortly after nationalized the British-owned oil industry (see Abadan Crisis). Mossadegh was opposed by the Shah who feared a resulting oil embargo imposed by the West would leave Iran in economic ruin. The Shah flees Iran.
  • 1951: Prime Minister Mosadegh nationalizes Iran’s oil industry.
  • 1953: With British and U.S.  help, Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi returns to Iran via CIA’s  Operation Ajax.
  • 1953-1979: Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi makes Iran a rentier state (economy based on the selling of some commodity) based on oil and import substitution industrialization (focus on capital-intensive industry) which led to the neglect of agriculture and small-scale production.

The 1953 Iranian coup d’état was the first time the U.S. used the CIA to overthrow a democratically elected, civil government. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, encouraged by his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a defender of transnational corporate power, agreed to send the Central Intelligence Agency in to depose Mossadegh ending democracy in Iran.

Click Link for “History of Iran & USA in 10 min”

The operation – code name “Operation Ajax” – took less than a month in the summer of 1953.

The number of anti-colonialists, dissidents, protesters and revolutionaries killed after the overthrow of Mossadegh and during the 79′ Revolution range between 3,000 to 60,000.

The Eisenhower administration viewed Operation Ajax as a success as it returned the Shah to his Peacock Throne.

After the Shah was placed in power, the oil industry was denationalized, the British-led oil embargo against Iran ended, and oil revenue increased significantly beyond the pre-nationalisation level.

Despite Iran not controlling its national oil, the Shah agreed to replace the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company with a consortium—British Petroleum and eight European and American oil companies; in result, oil revenues increased from $34 million in 1954–1955 to $181 million in 1956–1957, and continued increasing.

The Shah of Iran, Houari Boumedienne and Saddam Hussein

In March 1975, subsequent to discussions at an OPEC meeting, Iran and Iraq agreed to meet and negotiate their dispute over borders and water and navigation rights. This meeting resulted in the Algiers’ accord signed June 13, 1975. During the convocation of the OPEC Summit Conference in the Algerian capital and upon the initiative of President Houari Boumedienne, the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein (Vice-Chairman of the Revolution Commacil) met twice and conducted lengthy talks on the relations between Iraq and Iran. The thalweg, meaning the median course of the Shatt-El-Arab waterway, was designated as the border. The agreement caused the Shah of Iran to withdraw Iranian support for the Kurdish rebellion, which thereupon collapsed.

The Shah (and Iran) goes Nuclear

President Richard  Nixon and the Shah had known each other as far back as 1953, when as vice president, Nixon visited the young Shah in the wake of the CIA-sponsored coup.  Two decades later when, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War,  Nixon sought to reduce American military commitments in far-flung areas and Iran fulfilled a crucial role: protecting American and Western interests in the Persian Gulf. In return, Nixon and the Shah agreed in a set of 1972 agreements that Iran would receive US military advisers, technicians and weaponry, including the most sophisticated conventional weapons then in the American arsenal. “The Shah wanted to buy nuclear reactors from the United States (as well as Western Europe), but U.S. presidents wouldn’t approve the sales without conditions limiting his freedom of action to use U.S.-supplied resources. After protracted negotiations, Iran and Washington did reach an agreement, only to be derailed by the 1979 Islamic Revolution.”

The Nixon’s hold State Dinner for Shah – October 21, 1969        

Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi

The Shah managed to hold onto power until Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency in 1977. Carter inherited a relationship with Iran and the Shah set in place by Nixon. His increasing repression set off the explosion of the late 1970s, which brought to power Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the anti-Western Shi’a regime that has been in control ever since.

After the Iranian government had been overthrown by an Islamic revolution in 1979, and the Shah sent into exile, Khomeini returned to Iran, where millions of people were waiting enthusiastically to greet him.

In response to the exiled Shah’s admission to the United States in September 1979, a large crowd seized the US embassy in Tehran, taking 52 American citizens hostage. After 444 days of economic sanctions, diplomatic negotiations and a failed military rescue, the release of the remaining hostages was finally secured.

In February 1989 Khomeini broadcast a fatwa on Tehran Radio, issuing a death threat against British author Salman Rushdie and his publishers, over the book Satanic Verses.

Later that year on June 3, 1989, Khomeini died.

                                                Ayatollah Khomeini

British Petroleum

Since the late 70s, “British Petroleum has cut back its ties with Iran as international sanctions against the Islamic Republic have mounted in response to its nuclear program. BP several years ago halted investments larger than $20 million into Iran’s energy infrastructure, remaining below the threshold for penalties set by the 1995 Iran Sanctions Act. And in the second half of 2009, the company halted the sale of refined petroleum products to Iran, which Tehran needs because of its limited domestic refiningcapacity. But BP remains one of the most active major western oil companies engaged in joint-venture energy projects with the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum outside of Iran. In the last five years, BP has begun extracting around 4 million cubic meters per day of natural gas from a field in Britain’s North Sea in a 50-50 joint venture with Iran, worth $1 million a day at June 15, 2010 spot prices. And BP operates one of the world’s largest gas fields in Azerbaijan in a joint venture with Iran and other foreign oil companies, producing 8 billion cubic meters of gas per year, worth up to a reported $2.4 billion per year.”

The history of Iran’s nuclear energy program-http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/op-eds/the-history-of-irans-nuclear-energy-program

Toasts of the President and the Shah of Iran –http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=2277#axzz1XsAv9jd5

Iran, BP and the CIA – http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/06/22/iran-bp-and-the-cia/

( edited by Kevin Alexander Gray 2011)

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Filed under American History, American Politics, anti-war, European History, Middle East, The Carter Administration, The Nixon Administration

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