Omid Habibinia
Last updated: 7 November, 2012

33 years after embassy occupation, US-Iranian relations remain freezing cold

On November 4, 1979 a group of pro-regime students entered the US embassy in Tehran, which set off the collapse of US-Iranian relations. Omid Habibinia lists key events in the two countries’ affairs since the fall of the Shah.

January 1979
General Robert Huyser was sent to Iran with the mission to convince Iran’s army chief commanders to obey Bakhtiar – the Shah’s last prime minster – and prepare for the Shah’s departure. He also met with pro-Khomeini religious leaders, according to some reports including Ayatollah Beheshti who later became the key leader of Islamic Republic.

February 11, 1979
The Shah regime collapsed after an armed uprising that included parts of the military and various rebel groups. The US recognized the new government that was headed by Mehdi Bazargan, a representative of liberal democratic Islamic thought who was appointed by Khomeini.

October 22, 1979
The Shah, who at this point had terminal stage cancer, was finally allowed to enter the US and was hospitalized in New York.

November 4, 1979
A group of pro-regime students led by Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha attacked the US Embassy and took 52 US diplomats hostage. Khoeiniha rushed to Khomeini’s palace, who gave his support. The semi-liberal Bazargan government resigned in the aftermath.

January 30, 1980
Six US embassy employees who escaped from Iran with Canadian passports arrived in the US.

April 7, 1980
The US government ended diplomatic relations with Iran and ordered remaining Iranian diplomats to leave the US.

April 25, 1980
Operation Eagle Claw – an attempt to rescue the hostages with some help from Iranian army insiders – failed and 8 US soldiers were killed in the northeast of Iran.

January 20, 1981
Less than one hour after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, the hostages were released after being held for 444 days in an accord brokered by the Algerian government.

1981
The Reagan government started to support Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran.

August 20, 1985-March 4, 1987
The Iran-Contra affair was an arms-for-hostages scheme, in which members of the Reagan administration sold weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages.

July 3, 1988
Tension between the Iranian military and US navy in the Persian Gulf increased dramatically, culminating when the USS Vincennes shoots down a civilian Iran Air flight bound for Dubai for no apparent reason, killing 290 passengers including 66 children. Tehran called the act intentional and interpreted it as a signal from the Reagan government that the covert war between the countries in the Persian Gulf would continue. While the US has not admitted any wrongdoing or submitted an apology, in 1996 it agreed to pay USD 131.8 million to Iran and the victims’ families in compensation for the incident.

1990-1991
The first Iraq War. Iran remains neutral over the US-led operation to free Kuwait.

1996
President Clinton increased trade sanction against Iran, accusing the Islamic Republic of terrorism and nuclear weapons projects.

March 2000
Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, called for a new start in Iran-US relations and apologizes for the US role in the coup d’état against the Mosadegh government in 1953. She announced the lifting of some of the sanctions, a move which the Iranian foreign ministry welcomed.

September 2000
Albright and Kharrazi, Iran’s Foreign Minister met in New York during the UN General Assembly, the first time such a meeting took place post-1979.

US accused Iran for bombing a US base in Saudi Arabia, the same year as CIA reported that Iran was about to reach nuclear weapons capabilities.

January 29, 2002
President George W. Bush called Iran, Iraq and North Korea the Axis of Evil.

December 2003
The US sends humanitarian aid to Bam earthquake victims by. Some direct contacts lined between diplomats.

2005
Reports in the US claimed Iranian President Ahmadinejad was a leader in the US embassy takeover in 1979. According to US government investigations, this later on turned out to be incorrect.

March 2006
Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State, announced that Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest challenge for US.

November 2008
Ahmadinejad sent letter of congratulation to Barak Obama after he was elected US president.

2009
Some protesters on Tehran’s streets shouted that the US must stop secret negations with the regime and support the protest movement instead.

2011
Obama extended Iran’s sanction.

October 17, 2012
Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American charged in a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States pleaded guilty.

September 2012
Secret diplomatic meetings between the two countries are reported by The New York Times. Both countries denied that any deal had taken place.

Omid Habibinia is an Iranian journalist and media researcher, and the co-founder of the International Association of Independent Iranian Journalists. He most recently wrote Iranian journalists – tears and hope.