Power Shifts: The Definition of U.S.-Iranian Relations

By Connor J. Wangler
Source: TIME.com
Source: TIME.com

The current state of relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran is extremely strained; formal diplomatic relations between the two countries have been severed for more than thirty years. The revolutionary hero of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, made it a point after his rise to power to effectively cut out the influence of the United States in his new Islamic Iranian society. After the success of the Islamic revolution, Khomeini and his supporters succeeded in this and ending official relations with the United States.

There is no doubt that the coup d’état against the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddeq, remains one of the biggest blows to the relationship between the United States and the people of Iran. On May 1, 1951, Prime Minister Mosaddeq nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and placed the production of oil in Iran under state control. This upset British and American oil interests, and on August 19, 1953 the U.S. and Great Britain organized the overthrow of the Mosaddeq government and installed Shah Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī as the absolute leader in Iran. This action was recently detailed by a vote in the Iranian Parliament to sue the United States over its involvement in the coup.

Source: Bertil Videt
Source: Bertil Videt

After the restoration of the Shah as ruler in Iran, several factions of anti-Shah/anti-West sentiment were aroused. These ranged from communist groups to Islamic fundamentalists. Fortunately for the Islamics, the only true leader that emerged from this opposition was Khomeini. After decades of failed social reforms and westernization, the Iranian people rose up against the Shah. On January 16, 1979 the Shah left Iran for exile and on April 1, the country voted to become an Islamic Republic. This day is celebrated as Islamic Republic Day, recognizing the official creation of an Islamic Iran.

Perhaps the most defining event of U.S.-Iranian relations is the hostage crisis of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran that lasted from 1979 until 1981. Iranian students, claiming to be acting in support of the recent Islamic revolution, took fifty-two Americans hostage inside the U.S. Embassy. These actions were condoned by Khomeini and last for 444 days. This event stays prevalent in both countries, especially through its recent depiction in a film-fight between the U.S. “Argo” and the Iranian “The Genera Staff”.

Source: TheGuardian.com
Source: TheGuardian.com

Today’s status of U.S.-Iranian relations stands at an interesting crossroads. For most of the past decade it has been defined by extremely constrained encounters over Iran’s nuclear program. This has included a vehemently anti-U.S. Iranian presidency in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and increased sanctions placed on Iran by the Bush and Obama administrations. No U.S. and Iranian Presidents have met since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. This may change, however, with the inauguration of President Rouhani in Iran, who has begun a “charm offensive” beginning with an Op-ed in The Washington Post. There has also been increased speculation that President Obama will offer an olive branch of peace to Rouhani and meet with the Iranian president at the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting. According to a White House statement, Obama wrote Rouhani saying “that the U.S. is ready to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that allows Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes.” One must question to legitimacy of both parties’ intentions, but one must also be hopeful that perhaps progress can be made.


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