US-Iran Foreign Policy Before and After the Islamic Revolution 1979

US-Iran Foreign Policy Before and After the Islamic Revolution 1979

The US relations with Iran have not been good for a long time. The relations between the two were good in the early 1900s when the US seemed the best ally to Iran compared to Russia and Britain who had motives of colonizing Iranians. The two countries used to relate well with American missionaries working in Iran and engaging in different developmental activities (Hurt, 2018). They had a good business partnership that revolved around oil venture. Essentially, the US played a critical role in the birth of modern Iran through massive formative experiences, but the situation started changing in the mid-1900s. Their relations worsened further when the US supported Israel during the 1973 Israel- Arab War to the extent that Iran imposed an oil embargo to the US and other few countries (Jenkins, 2012). Since 1980, the US the two countries have not been having direct diplomatic relations with Iran withdrawing its embassy in the US and vice versa. This paper focuses on analyzing and demonstrating the US-Iran foreign policy before and after 1979 by pointing out the two countries have related since the 1900s to today.

US-Iran Relations Before 1979

The US and Iran were not great of friends before 1900, but the Americans played a critical constructive role in every formative undertaking in the birth of contemporary Iran. First, the US had a large group of missionaries in Iran by 1902 who were welcomed well (In Merino, 2015). This is because the US showed good intentions to establish working relations with Iran as opposed to Russia and Britain who had shown personal interests due to their intentions to colonize the country. A US teacher working in Iran was among the key people who were helping the country establish a constitution. However, the teacher died in the process in 1905 during the fight to advance the rule of law through a Constitutional Revolution (In Merino, 2015). Moreover, US missionaries initiated and developed several schools and hospitals across Iran where they engaged in an extensive duty of training a generation of future leaders of the country. They played a critical role in expanding female education in the country by empowering locals and making them understand the changing role of women in society.

During the final years of the Qajar Empire and the initial years of the Pahlavi rule, the US was proposed to reinforce the country’s fiscal management. They were equally mandated to enhance administrative reforms and acknowledge their gendarmerie. Furthermore, Washington supported and even stood in for Iran that was occupied by Allied powers, during the Peace Talks held in Paris after WWI (Jenkins, 2012). In other words, amongst many Allied powers that were present in Iran during that period, the country settled on the US to advocate for her during the Paris Peace Talks. The same was the case after WWII when Russian soldiers assisted in prompting secessionist movements in Iran and declined to withdraw as initially agreed. In return, the US benefited extensively in terms of importing oil and oil products from Iran during that period (In Merino, 2015). Therefore, the relationship between the two countries was good from 1900 until 1953 when things started changing as explained below.

Start of Turning Point – 1953

Just like the US, the UK was also enjoying good oil-business relations with Iran. However, when Iran voted in Mosaddeq as Prime Minister, Britain led by Sir Anthony Eden who was the foreign secretary of the state considered the Prime Minister as a threat to its economic and strategic interests in Iran. Precisely, Mosaddeq decided to nationalize the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Firm which became BP at later stages (Hurt, 2018). The move did not sink well with Britain who decided to do everything possible to get Mossadeq out of power to stop interfering with their strategic and economic interests in the country. However, to achieve the objective of overthrowing Prime Minister Mossadeq, the UK needed support from the US. When they reached out for support from the US, the Eisenhower administration was easily persuaded.

The two countries plotted a coup that remained secretive for many years until recently when the US National Security archive located at George Washington University published several classified CIA official papers that revealed US and British military coup in Iran (Dehghan & Norton-Taylor, 2013). Even though the two countries denied their involvement, Iran was aware, and that affected the US relations with the country extensively. Besides, the subsequent US administration openly embraced and supported Shah Mohammed Reza who took over after Mosaddeq was overthrown (Jenkins, 2012). The relationship between the two countries was good during this period because Mohammed Reza enjoyed support from the US.

It was during 1973 and 1978 when the relationship between the two countries was at its pick. The two countries enjoyed military trade and general relations with at least 60 thousand Iranians living and or studying in the US while at least 50,000 Americans lived and worked in Iran. The communication between Washington and Iran was extreme in the sense that telephone calls between the two countries increased by 1,600%. Despite the slight disagreement between the US and Arab nations under OPEC due to its support Israel during the 1973 Israel-Arab War, things got better by 1974, and the good relations proceeded. Therefore, in general, the US relations with Iran were good until 1978 because a series of events occurred that worsened things to the extent that the US removed its embassy in Iran in 1980 and vice versa.

1979 Events – Revolution

1979 witnessed a significant turnaround in the relationship between the two countries when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini replaced pro-American Mohammed Shah. Immediately after the election of the new President, students stormed the US Embassy that was located in Tehran and even though they were pushed away by the Iranian security forces and the country’s deputy foreign minister, it was just a matter of time (Maloney, 2019). This is because a few months later, the students seized the embassy once more and the hostage situation lasted for 444 days. The first significant incident was Iran cutting its diplomatic relations with Israel which had been prompted by the US.

After holding the US embassy hostage, it cut its oil imports from Iran and freezes about $6 billion of Iranian assets and bank deposits in the US. In April 1980, the US officially cut off its diplomatic relations with Iran to show that the two countries could no longer see eye-to-eye (Maloney, 2019). In 1983, the US accused Iran of helping the suicide bombing on the US Marine peacekeepers in barracks in Lebanon that killed at least 241 American military individuals, the largest loss to the country’s military since WWII (Hurt, 2018). One year later, President Reagan’s administration enlisted Iran among governments in the world that support terrorism. The relations between the two countries deteriorated further through a series of abduction incidences undertaken on American hostages include William Buckley who was a CIA station chief who eventually died in captivity (Jenkins, 2012). It was not until 1991 when the last member of the abducted Americans was freed after some secretive transactions of military weapons from the US to Iran took place.

In 1996, President Clinton issued a complete US-Iran trade embargo and all sorts of investments after Iran allegedly sponsored ‘terrorism’ groups such as Al-Qaeda and promoted their nuclear ambitions. To make matters worse, President Clinton signed a bill into law, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act that punished foreign firms doing business with the US that also invested in the Iranian oil industry (Douglas, 2014). In other words, foreign relations between the two countries continued to deteriorate further with one action by the US after another followed by countermeasures by Iran (Dehghan & Norton-Taylor, 2013). President Obama and President Ayatollah Khamenei wrote each other many letters trying to work out a deal that would revive the two country’s foreign relations, but it never happened.


The US-Iran foreign policy and relations were good before 1979 but changed drastically after that until today. Several US missionaries and elite workers such as teachers played a critical role in prompting the birth of modern Iran in the early 1900s. The US advocated on behalf of Iran during the Paris Peace Talks after WWI as well as after WWII to show that the two countries had good relations. Things almost changed in 1953 when the US collaborated with the UK to organize a coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mosaddeq. It then supported the leadership of Shah who improved the relations between the two nations further until 1979 when there was a revolution, and he was replaced by President Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who was firmly against the US ties with Iran. Since then, there have never been good relations between the two countries until today.



Dehghan, S. & Norton-Taylor, R. (August 19, 2013). “CIA Admits Role in 1953 Iranian Coup.” The Guardian.

Maloney, S. (January 24, 2019). “1979: Iran and America.” Brookings Education.

Jenkins, P. (2012). A decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America page 153. Oxford University Press, USA.

Douglas, L. (2014). American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East since 1945. University of North Carolina Press, p145.

In Merino, N. (2015). US foreign policy. Farmington Hills, Mich: Greenhaven Press.

Hurt, A. E. (2018). U.S.-Iran Relations. Rosen Publishing Group: Greenhaven Publishing LLC.