Written by Joshua Donelly-Higgins and Jack Fitton

Since the overthrow of Iran's prime minister in 1953 that was orchestrated by the CIA, the relationship between the U.S. and Iran has been increasingly problematic. During the reign of Mohammad Rez Shah, the relationship between the two nations was a very close and comfortable alliance. However, this is partly due to the events of the Cold War, which forced the U.S. to gain a favorable connection with Iran in order to prevent an alliance between the latter and the USSR. In some ways, this relationship was manipulative and is viewed as a sore point for the Iranian population. In today's times, a very tense relationship exists between the two parties. Following the events of 9/11, an anti-Islamic ideology spread that was partly based on a speech of former President George Bush in which he referred to Iran as an "Axis of Evil".

Modern History (1941-1979)Edit

Article by Jack Fitton 

The reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran lasted from 1941 until 1979, and throughout the bulk of his time in power, the Shah maintained a constructive relationship with the United States of America. 


U.S. President Ford and the Shah look over charts on May 15th, 1975.

59 Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and Richard Nixon at Oval Office 1973

The Shah and President Nixon at the Oval Office in 1973.

A welcome guest at the White House, Reza viewed the U.S. as a solid ally and became the recipient of numerous praise from various American presidents. Though the king had close ties with the U.S., their positive association could not speak for the majority of the Iranian population. 

Phone conversation Pres. Lyndon B

Phone conversation Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson and HIM Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran

Phone conversation between President Johnson and the Shah on May 18th, 1965 demonstrates the comfortable relationship between them.

The controversial rule of the Shah brought the country into a stage of turmoil that was not improved by the meddling behavior of the United States. The USSR, the opponent of the States during the Cold War, was also a neighboring country to Iran. Because America’s extreme rival happened to be in a position as the largest and most dominant country bordering the oil-jackpot that was Iran, this placed an enormous burden on the U.S.’s shoulders. An alliance between the Soviets and Iran looked all too inevitable, and the Americans were determined to do all in their power to prevent a connection that was on the brink of occurrence. In 1951, Dean Acheson, the secretary of state for President Truman, expressed fear that Iran may "disappear behind the Iron Curtain". However, the actions of the United States during the Cold War quickly transitioned into a period that represents a sore point for many Iranians. The Shah was pressured to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on equipment from the United States, causing dissatisfaction among the Iranian population. In order to supply Iran with the advanced weapons required in the struggle against the Soviets, the more-than-willing Americans sent several businessmen, advisors, and trainers overseas for assistance. When it was declared that the Americans living in Iran were exempt from all of the country’s laws and taxation, many became increasingly discontent with the situation. Several spoke out against the U.S., including Ayatollah Khomeini, who in 1964 said that the Americans have “reduced the Iranian people to a level lower than the American dog”. 
Jimmy Carter toasting with the Shah-0

Jimmy Carter toasting with the Shah-0

A part of Jimmy Carter's speech toasting the Shah on New Year's Eve in 1978.

President Jimmy Carter continued a beneficial relationship with the Shah in the late 1970s, causing disturbance among anti-Shah Iranians by toasting the Shah on News Year’s Eve in 1978. Carter referred to the Shah’s leadership as “brilliant” and stated that “there is no other state figure whom (he) could appreciate and like more”. However, the popularity of the Shah in the States did not correspond with his reputation in his own country. On January 16, 1979, following a large number of protests and uprisings, the resentful Shah finally departed Iran on an “extended vacation”. While the Iranian people rejoiced, the Shah sought entry into the United States and escape from those who wanted him punished. Though Carter briefly and reluctantly let the Shah in, he refused to offer any other assistance, fearing this would be counterproductive in the establishment of a favorable relationship with the new Iranian government.

The relations between Iran and the U.S. during the time of Mohammad Reza Shah is an appropriate demonstration of political manipulation. The manipulative United States used Iran as a pawn in their own Cold War with the Soviet Union. Carter’s refusal to aid the ousted Shah contributes to the idea that the Shah represented no more than an American puppet. The events that occurred during this time period set the stage for the development of the troubled relationship to come.

Contemporary History (2002-Present) Edit

President Bush Axis of Evil Speech

President Bush Axis of Evil Speech

The Axis of Evil Speech made by President Bush in 2002


Obama and Rouhani engage in open dialogue about the nuclear program

Article by Joshua Donelly-Higgins


Iranian Nuclear Facilities

Since 9/11, the relationship between the US and Iran has been very tenuous. The US had a growing fear and stigma of Middle-Eastern powers, which was caused by the endemic spread of anti-Islamic ideology accompanied by the “War on Terror”. George Bush even had the diplomatically suicidal idea to call Iran an “Axis of Evil”, along with North Korea and Iraq (which Iran had ironically been at war with recently). From 1997 to 2005, Iran had a fairly moderate President, Mohammad Khatami, who wanted to reform US-Iran relations, and open “a dialogue with the American People”. The Axis of Evil speech in 2002 kicked off a new era of conflict between the two countries based around Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Soon after the speech, an Iranian opposition group revealed the Iranian Nuclear Program to the world. It was revealed Iran had Uranium enrichment facilities that were useful for power generation, but also nuclear weapons. In 2005, Iran enstated a new leader, President Ahmadinejad. He was an ultra-conservative anti-US leader, who denied the Holocaust, and claimed that the 9/11 conspiracies are believed by most people, and the US actually faked the incident. This further escalated the situation, so that in 2006 the UN instituted sanctions against Iran because of their nuclear weapons. As the sanctions kept growing, Iran’s economy started to fall into a deep recession because they could barely trade with anyone. In 2009, internal hostility reached a peak not seen since the 1979 revolution against the Shah. Ahmadinejad won by a “landslide vote”, which is still highly controversial as to its legitimacy. In 2013, the antagonism reached a turning point, when President Obama, and the newly elected President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, start talks about the " nuclear issue" Rouhani tweeted “In phone convo, President #Rouhani and President @BarackObama expressed their mutual political #will to rapidly solve the #nuclear issue.” This marked the first open conversation between Iranian and US leaders in over 30 years.

Works Cited Edit

"US-Iran Relations: A Brief Guide." BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

"Iran–United States Relations." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 Dec.

Iran through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution. Providence, RI: Choices Program, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown U, 2008. Print.