Modern political tensions began to steadily increase in Iran in the early 1900s. These tensions resulted not only from civil unrest within Iran, but between relations with other countries, mostly with other Middle Eastern states and the United States. After the Constitutional Revolution, Iran adopted a new constitution in 1906 which significantly limited the power of the monarch, and established a parliament. European influence hindered Iran's attempts towards independence throughout the mid 1900s, resulting in Shah Reza Pahlavi's abdication of his throne in 1941. In 1951, Iran's new Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, began to implement his nationalist strategies, such as nationalizing Iran's oil and limiting foreign interests in Iran.
Due to the fear of Iran becoming a Communist country, the U.S. and Britain lead a joint operation called Operation Ajax to overthrow Mossadeq. As a result of Mossadeq's defeat, the shah returns to power, and reestablishes close economic relations with the West, particularly support for oil interests. 1963 marks the beginning of the shah's "White Revolution" - an attempt to modernize Iran economically and socially.
The clerics in Iran were harsh critics of the shah and his White Revolution. Among these critics was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a cleric from Qom. In 1963 Khomeini is arrested for criticizing the shah, causing much turmoil throughout Iran. The following year Khomeini is exiled to Turkey, and in 1965 he moves to Iraq where he remained until 1978.
The same year, an article in an Iranian newspaper which attacks Khomeini causes violent demonstrations throughout Qom, and later throughout the entire country. Martial Law is declared in September of 1978 after government troops fired on pro-Khomeini demonstrators (which later became known as Black Friday). Later that year, Khomeini is forced to leave Iraq and moves to France, where he establishes an opposition movement; at the same time the Islamic Revolutionary Council is formed in Iran upon the direction of Khomeini.
In 1979, as a result of increased civil unrest, the shah is forced into exile, while Khomeini returns to Iran. Shortly after Khomeini's return, the shah's military announces its neutrality, and the monarchy collapses. Khomeini then assumes power and declares the Islamic Republic of Iran in April.
On November 4, 1979, student demonstrators seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and demand that the U.S. return the shah to Iran to stand trial. This led to the Iranian hostage crisis, in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. As a result U.S. President Jimmy Carter declares an embargo on Iranian oil, the first of many harsh sanctions to follow.
In December of 1979 Iran ratifies their new constitution, which is based on "velayat-e faqih" or "The rule of the Islamic jurist." The position of Supreme Leader was created, which encompasses all ultimate and religious authority. In 1980, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr is elected the first President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, while Khomeini, as Supreme Leader, still maintains control of the government. Later that year, President Carter severed all diplomatic ties with Iran after hostage negotiations failed. Operation Eagle Claw - the President's secret mission to free the hostages is aborted after the death of U.S. servicemen.
A few months after the death of the exiled Iranian shah, Iraq invades Iran, launching devastating air strikes which lasted for eight years - making it the longest conventional war of the 20th century. In 1981 Bani-Sadr is impeached, and is succeeded by Mohammed Ali Rajai, who is killed in a bombing targeted at high-level government officials. The attacks were blamed on the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, an Iranian socialist opposition movement. After the death of Rajai, Ali Khamenei is elected the third president of Iran in October of 1981.
In 1982, Iran deployed its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon in response to Israel's invasion of the region. Iran publicly supports the Lebanese Muslims, and, with already strained relations with the U.S., denounces alleged U.S. support for Israel.
In August 1985, Israel sent 100 anti-tank missiles to Iran. Hundreds more were sent the next month, and three hostages were released for the arms trade. It was later learned that the funds from the arms sales to Iran were illegally funneled to the U.S. backed Contras fighting to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, what later became known as the "Iran-Contra affair." Three years later, the USS Vincennes accidentally shot down an Iranian passenger plane, killing 290 people. The U.S. publicly apologized for its mistake; however, Iran believed the act was evidence that the U.S. planned to get involved with the war against Iraq.
On July 18, 1988 Ayatollah Khomeini accepted a U.N.-brokered cease-fire agreement, ending the Iraq-Iran war. The following year Khomeini dies of a heart attack, and The Assembly of Experts chooses President Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader to replace Khomeini, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is elected president.
During the Persian Gulf War, Iran remained neutral. It criticized Baghdad's occupation of Kuwait, as well as the possibility of a long-term U.S. military presence in the region. In 1993, when U.S. President Clinton is elected, he announces his plan to isolate Iran for its "alleged support of terrorist activities, its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and its efforts to undermine Middle East peace Efforts" and in 1995, he signs a trade embargo on Iran.
Issues of peace and security became increasingly dire in June of 1996, when a truck bomb exploded outside the Khobar towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. servicemen and injuring more than 500 others. The terrorist organization accused of the bombings, Saudi Hezbollah, was eventually linked to Lebanon's Hezbollah and to "Iranian officials" who helped direct the organization's terrorist efforts.
In May 1997 Mohammad Khatami was elected President in a surprising landslide victory over Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri. President Clinton sees this as a "hopeful sign" for Iran and U.S.-Iran relations, but states that sanctions will remain on Iran until it denounces terrorism, and stops its attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
Political and social tensions rise in Iran in July of 1999 when students protest for six days throughout the country in response to actions and proposed laws which significantly limit freedom of the press. Incidents of police brutality occur in shockingly high numbers, and over 1,000 people are arrested, making this the most tumultuous time in Iran since the Iranian revolution.
As the political landscape becomes increasingly tense in the Fall of 1999, Abdullah Nouri, a former Interior minister and leading reformer is charged and convicted with spreading anti-Islamic propaganda, and ultimately sentenced to five years in prison. Parliamentary elections occur at the height of Nouri's trial, with 70% of qualified voters participating, leading to an overwhelming reformist victory.
After progress made by the new reformist government, Saudi Arabia and Iran sign a security agreement in April 2001, indicating a decrease in tensions between Iran and other Arab states. Later that year, Khatami, a reformist, wins the presidential election, legitimizing the impact of the reform movement, in turn raising expectations of Iran among the international community. These expectations were not immediately met, as conflict between Supreme Leader Khamenei and Parliament delayed Khatami's inauguration by three days, resulting in what the New York Times described as an "assertive" inaugural address.
Highlighting some of the inherent political differences between Iran and Western countries, Iran condemned the U.S. strikes on Afghanistan in 2001, attacks which Khameini believed to be a part of America's plan to increase its hegemonic power. In October of 2001, Russia signs a military agreement with Iran, allowing Russia to sell jets, missiles, and other small arms and light weapons to Iran. Russia had ceased selling arms to Iran for the past six years due to pressure from the U.S., which deems Iran as a "state-sponsor of terrorism."
In a significant turn of events, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi shake hands at the United Nations headquarters in New York City in late 2001, where they discussed a "post-Taliban government." This marked an important step towards diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran, which have been strained since the revolution of 1979. Despite the progress made between Iran and other countries, in January of 2002, Israeli commandos seized the ship Karine A., which was carrying 50 tons of arms allegedly supplied by Iran which were being shipped to the Palestinian Authority. Among the weapons were Katyusha rockets, anti-tank missiles, and plastic explosives; had these weapons made it to Palestine, they would have significantly escalated the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Relations between the U.S. and Iran became increasingly volatile after President George W. Bush's accusation of Iran as a part of the "axis of evil." Debate within the Iranian government erupts over how to deal with the United States - with the clerics rejecting the notion of negotiations with America, and the reformist leaders pushing for open relations.
On July 24, 2005 the religious conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ahmadinejad has been described as a nationalist, a populist, an Islamist, and a widely controversial political figure. He has also been a strong supporter of the development of a "peaceful" nuclear program in Iran, and consistently denies any attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Diplomatic relations with Western countries such as the U.S. remain strained, especially due to Ahmadinejad's brash criticism of the state of Israel and the U.S.'s position towards it.
For more on the current political situation in Iran and its involvement with nuclear technology please check the "Current Issues" section. (US, Public Boradcasting System, Frontline, "Terror and Tehran," Chronology: US-Iran Relations, 1906-2002, 2005)
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