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Iran Primer: Timeline of Iran's Foreign Relations

by SEMIRA NIKOU

01 Nov 2010 18:00Comments
  • 1979
  • Feb. 12 Syria was the first Arab country to recognize the revolutionary regime when President Hafez al-Assad sent a telegram of congratulations to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The revolution transformed relations between Iran and Syria, which had often been hostile under the shah.
  • Feb. 14 Students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, but were evicted by the deputy foreign minister and Iranian security forces.
  • Feb. 18 Iran cut diplomatic relations with Israel.
  • Oct. 22 The shah entered the United States for medical treatment. Iran demanded the shah's return to Tehran.
  • Nov. 4 Students belonging to the Students Following the Imam's Line seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The hostage crisis lasted 444 days. On Nov. 12, Washington cut off oil imports from Iran. On Nov. 14, President Carter issued Executive Order 12170 ordering a freeze on an estimated $6 billion of Iranian assets and official bank deposits in the United States.
  • March Iran severed formal diplomatic ties with Egypt after it signed a peace deal with Israel. Three decades later, Egypt was still the only Arab country that did not have an embassy in Tehran.
  • 1980
  • April 7 The United States cut off diplomatic relations with Iran.
  • April 25 The United States attempted a rescue mission of the American hostages during Operation Eagle Claw. The mission failed due to a sandstorm and eight American servicemen were killed. Ayatollah Khomeini credited the failure to divine intervention.
  • Sept. 22 Iraq invaded Iran in a dispute over the Shatt al-Arab waterway. The war continued for eight years. Iran and Syria strengthened ties after Iraq's invasion, as Damascus provided Tehran with military and diplomatic support.
  • October Iran cut all ties with Jordan after Amman declared support for Iraq. Relations did not resume until 1991.
  • 1981
  • Jan. 20 After weeks of mediation by Algeria, Washington and Tehran agreed to the Algiers Accord to end the hostage crisis. The United States agreed to release frozen Iranian assets and not to intervene in Iranian affairs, in exchange for the release of 52 American hostages. Both countries agreed to end lawsuits. All claims would be referred to international arbitration at a new Iran-U. S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague.
  • May 25 The Gulf Cooperation Council was established in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in order to confront security challenges posed by the Iran-Iraq War and the percieved threat of Iran's Islamic revolution. The agreement was between Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
  • 1982
  • June Iran dispatched more than 1,000 Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon after Israel's June 6 invasion. Iranian forces supported the formation of Hezbollah, a Shiite militia, but never directly confronted Israel. The invasion also strengthened ties between Iran and Syria.
  • July 19 American University of Beirut President David Dodge became the first of several Americans to be taken hostage over the next nine years. He was the only one taken to Iran, where he spent one year in prison.
  • 1983
  • Oct. 23 The United States accused Iran of aiding the suicide bombing at the barracks of U.S. Marine peacekeepers in Lebanon, which killed 241 U.S. military personnel, the largest loss to the American military in a single incident since Iwo Jima in World War II.
  • 1984
  • Jan. 23 The Reagan administration put Iran on the State Department list of governments supporting terrorism.
  • March An Iran-supported militia in Beirut again began abducting American hostages, including CIA station chief William Buckley, who died in captivity.
  • 1985
  • Apr. 1 Washington warned Iran it would be held responsible if American hostages were harmed. By mid-summer, Washington had begun behind-the-scene diplomatic efforts that led to the arms-for-hostage swap.
  • June 2 During a visit to Japan, Parliamentary Speaker Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani called on the United States to restore relations with Iran. Later that month, he played a role in ending the hijacking of TWA 847, the 17-day hostage ordeal of 39 Americans in Beirut.
  • July 25 Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, heir apparent to Ayatollah Khomeini, urged Iranian diplomats to improve relations with Western nations.
  • Aug. 14 A shipment of U.S. TOW antitank missiles was sent to Tehran from Israel as part of the secret arms-for-hostage swap. The same day, Rev. Benjamin Weir became the first of three American hostages to be freed in Lebanon.
  • Nov. 22 A shipment of HAWK anti-aircraft missiles was sent to Tehran from Israel as the second phase of an arms-for-hostage swap, but the deal fell far short of what was promised and Iran ordered a refund of payment and a resupply.
  • 1986
  • Jan. 17 President Ronald Reagan signed a special finding to permit negotiations with Iran on hostages and to help promote "moderate" elements in Tehran. This was followed by a shipment of 1,000 TOW missiles to Iran at the end of February.
  • May 25-28 Former national security adviser Robert McFarlane and Lt. Col. Oliver North made a secret trip to Iran to deliver arms. In July, American hostage Father Lawrence Jenco was freed in Lebanon. On Aug. 3, the United States delivered new HAWK missiles to Iran.
  • September Two more Americans were taken hostage in Lebanon. On Sept. 19-20, an Iranian emissary related to Rafsanjani visited Washington for talks on arms, hostages and improved relations.
  • October American writer Edward Tracy was taken hostage in Lebanon. A few days later, the United States provided 1,000 TOW missiles to Iran. On Nov. 2, American hostage David Jacobsen was freed in Beirut.
  • Nov. 3 The Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa exposed secret dealings between Iran, Israel and the United States, which became known as the "Iran-Contra affair."
  • 1987
  • April 7 Parliamentary speaker Rafsanjani said that Iran would try to mediate the release of American hostages in Lebanon if the United States showed "good will" by unfreezing Iranian assets in the United States. On May 13, the United States returned $450 million in frozen assets.
  • July 31 Saudi law enforcement agencies clashed with hundreds of demonstrators outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The dispute claimed the lives of around 400 pilgrims, two-thirds of whom were Iranian. Saudi Arabia blamed Iran and banned all political activities during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. In retaliation, angry mobs in Tehran ransacked the Saudi embassy.
  • 1988
  • April 27 Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic relations with Iran. Official relations were restored in 1991.
  • June 19 The USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane, killing 290 passengers and crew on board.
  • 1989
  • Nov. 3 The United States returned $567 million of frozen Iranian assets, in accordance with the Algiers Accord of 1981. American officials denied the deal was linked to Iranian President Rafsanjani's offer to help in the release of hostages in Beirut. Iranian assets valued at $900 million remained frozen.
  • Jan. 4 Ayatollah Khomeini wrote a letter to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev saying that communism was dead and that he should study Islam. Iran's relations with the Soviet Union soured after the Soviet support of Iraq during its eight-year war with Iran.
  • Jan. 20 In his inaugural address, George H. W. Bush said, "good will begets good will," in reference to Iran and American hostages held by pro-Iranian Hezbollah in Lebanon.
  • Feb. 14 Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the death of British author Salman Rushdie for his book "The Satanic Verses." On March 7, Iran cut off diplomatic relations with Britain over Rushdie's book. In 1990, low-level diplomatic relations resumed.
  • 1990
  • August-September Iran and Iraq resumed diplomatic ties, although Iran condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
  • 1991
  • Dec. 4 Terry Anderson, the last American hostage in Lebanon, was freed after Iranian intervention.
  • 1992
  • March 17 A suicide bombing at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killed around 30 and wounded more than 300 people. A group called the Islamic Jihad Organization, with alleged links to Iran and Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for the attack. Iran and Hezbollah denied involvement.
  • April Iran took full control of Abu Musa, an oil-rich island claimed by both Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Rival claims over the island became a source of tension between the two countries.
  • Sept. 10 China and Iran finalized an agreement on "nuclear energy" cooperation when Iranian President Rafsanjani visited Beijing, accompanied by senior military and atomic energy officials. The China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation reportedly agreed to sell Iran a facility to convert uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride gas. This agreement was cancelled in 1996 after pressure from the Clinton administration.
  • December The European Council announced the opening of a "critical dialogue" with Iran. The goal was to help end Iran's isolation while pressing it to improve its human rights record. The dialogue ended in 1997 when a German court found the Iranian government responsible for the murder of four Kurdish dissidents in Berlin.
  • 1993
  • March Iran and Algeria broke off ties after Algeria accused Iran of supporting the opposition Islamic Salvation Front. Tehran denied the charges. Diplomatic relations were restored in September.
  • 1994
  • May 10 Iran and South Africa reestablished diplomatic relations after the end of apartheid. The shah and South Africa had good relations, which ended after the 1979 revolution when the theocracy imposed a trade and oil boycott.
  • July 18 The bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 and wounded 300, was blamed on Iran and Hezbollah. The charges were denied by both parties. In 2006, Argentine prosecutors called for the arrest of former President Rafsanjani.
  • 1995
  • Jan. 8 Iran signed a contract with Russia to resume work on the partially complete Bushehr nuclear reactor.
  • March 15 The Rafsanjani government offered a billion-dollar contract to U.S. oil giant Conoco to develop two offshore oil fields, which was blocked after President Clinton signed an executive order banning U.S. investment in the Iranian oil industry.
  • May 6 President Clinton issued a total embargo of U.S.-Iran trade and investment over the country's alleged sponsorship of "terrorism," nuclear ambitions, and hostility to the Middle East peace process.
  • 1996
  • April 6 Belgian customs officials seized a large mortar from an Iranian shipment of pickles destined for Munich, Germany. Belgian officials speculated the military equipment was meant for attacks targeting Israeli interests in Europe.
  • June Iran was suspected of masterminding the June 25 bombing of Khobar Towers, a U.S. Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia. Subsequently, the Clinton administration sent a letter to President Khatami, transmitted by the foreign minister of Oman. The letter indicated that Washington had direct evidence of the Revolutionary Guards' involvement in the attacks. The message also stated that the United States wanted to work toward better relations with Iran. Tehran's response was brusque, denying the allegations.
  • Aug. 4 President Clinton signed into law the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), which penalized foreign companies doing business with the United States that also invested more than $20 million in the Iranian oil industry.
  • Aug. 10 Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan visited Tehran to negotiate a $20 billion natural gas agreement covering the delivery of 140 cubic feet of gas per year and the building of gas pipelines in both countries. Turkey said that the agreement involved trade, not investment, and therefore was not in violation of ILSA.
  • 1997
  • January Kazakhstan began shipping oil across the Caspian Sea to Iran, as part of an oil swap agreement negotiated in 1996.
  • April 10 A German court ruled that Iran was behind the murders of four Kurdish dissidents in Berlin in 1992. The German government expelled four Iranian diplomats and recalled its ambassador from Tehran. Iran denied involvement. The European Union declared a mass recall of ambassadors from Tehran and joined Germany in suspending the "critical dialogue." New Zealand, Australia and Canada also recalled their ambassadors from Tehran.
  • August In his inaugural address, President Mohammad Khatami said Iran was willing to have "relations with any state which respects our independence," and called for a "dialogue of civilizations" with all nations.
  • Dec. 9 Iran hosted the eighth Islamic Summit Conference of all Muslim countries.
  • 1998
  • Jan. 7 In an interview with CNN, President Khatami said Iran had an "intellectual affinity with the essence of American civilization" because it was also trying to construct a system based on the pillars of "religiosity, liberty, and justice." He called for both countries to try to bring down the "wall of mistrust."
  • September Iran deployed thousands of troops to its border with Afghanistan after the Taliban admitted killing eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist. But Iran ultimately did not go to war.
  • 1999
  • March 9 Iranian President Khatami arrived in Italy for the first visit to the West by an Iranian leader since 1979.
  • May 18 Tehran restored full diplomatic relations with Britain after resolution of the dispute over Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie.
  • 2000
  • March 17 In a speech, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apologized for America's role in the 1953 overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. She admitted that the coup, which put the shah back on the throne after he fled into exile, "was clearly a setback for Iran's political development." The Clinton administration partially lifted sanctions on Iranian carpets and foodstuffs. But Iran denounced the goodwill gesture because Albright's speech ended by criticizing Iran's domestic policies.
  • May 19 The World Bank approved its first loans to Iran in seven years, after the vote was postponed twice due to objections by Washington.
  • Sept. 30 President Khatami paid an official visit to Cuba, where Cuban President Fidel Castro presented him with a medal of honor. Khatami said the visit symbolized solidarity between the two nations.
  • 2001
  • March 12 During a state visit to Moscow, Iranian President Khatami and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the first cooperation and security agreement since the Iranian revolution.
  • Sept. 27 Ayatollah Khamenei and President Khatami condemned the al Qaeda 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington D.C.
  • October-December After the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan ousted the Taliban, Iran cooperated with the United States, Russia and India in providing support for the Northern Alliance opposition to bring down the Taliban. Iranian diplomats met with their U.S. and other Western counterparts in Bonn to form a new Afghan government. Iran also worked with the United Nations to repatriate nearly 1 million Afghan refugees.
  • 2002
  • Jan. 29 In his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush referred to Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil."
  • 2003
  • March Following the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, Syria and Iran intensified their cooperation to ensure they would not become Washington's next targets. They expanded bilateral defense cooperation and support to insurgent groups to tie down U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
  • May A Swiss diplomat relayed Iranian conditions for bilateral talks to the Bush administration shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but it was not taken seriously in Washington.
  • Dec. 26 A devastating earthquake hit the southeastern city of Bam, killing more than 26,000 people. On Dec. 30, the United States flew in an emergency response team. The military aircraft were the first U.S. planes to land in Iran in 20 years.
  • 2004
  • June 21 Iran arrested six British sailors -- part of the U.S.-led force in Iraq -- for trespassing into Iran's territorial waters. As a blow to Britain, Tehran paraded the servicemen through the city and forced them to apologize. They were released three days later, after negotiations.
  • November Iran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency heralded growing ties with China, noting "we mutually complement each other. They have industry and we have energy resources."
  • 2005
  • July 5 Iran received observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Astana and applied for full membership in 2008. But Iran's membership was blocked because the organization stipulated that no country under U.N. sanctions could be admitted.
  • Oct. 25 Newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to "vanish in the pages of time." The statement was widely interpreted as a call for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth.
  • 2006
  • May 8 President Ahmadinejad sent President Bush an 18-page letter.
  • July 30 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited Iran, where President Ahmadinejad awarded him Iran's highest state medal for his support of Iran's nuclear energy program. The two presidents often referred to each other as brothers.
  • July 31 The U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1696, demanding that Iran halt its nuclear enrichment program.
  • Dec. 15 President Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust was exaggerated.
  • Dec. 23 The U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1737, which imposed sanctions against Iran for failing to stop its uranium enrichment.
  • 2007
  • Feb. 8 Ayatollah Khamenei warned that Iran would target U.S. interests around the world if it came under attack over its nuclear program.
  • March 24 Iran detained 15 British sailors and Marines for trespassing into Iranian territorial waters. They were held almost two weeks.
  • March 24 The U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1747. The resolution called for a tightening of sanctions on Iran's nuclear program.
  • Oct. 16 Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Supreme Leader Khamenei on his first official visit to Iran, marking closer Russia-Iran ties. After the revolution, Washington had been called the "great satan," and Moscow labeled "the lesser Satan."
  • Oct. 25 Washington imposed the most sweeping unilateral sanctions since the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979. It sanctioned the Revolutionary Guards and a few Iranian banks, and individuals believed to have links to nuclear and terror-related activities.
  • Sept. 20 New York City officials denied President Ahmadinejad's request to visit the site of Sept. 11 attacks during his visit to the United Nations.
  • December A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
  • 2008
  • March 4 The U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1803, its fourth resolution against Iran for failing to suspend uranium enrichment.
  • Sept. 24 President Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations and Columbia University, where he criticized U.S. policy and said there were no homosexuals in Iran.
  • Nov. 6 President Ahmadinejad wrote President-elect Barack Obama congratulating him on his election and urging "real change."
  • 2009
  • Feb. 10 In a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, President Ahmadinejad welcomed talks with the United States based on "mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere."
  • March 20 President Barak Obama sent a Nowruz (Iranian New Year) message to the Iranian people and government that called for better relations. He also said that Iran's place in the international community "cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions."
  • March 20 Ayatollah Khamenei referred to Obama's speech as deceptive. In light of recent sanctions, he said Iran would judge the United States by its actions and not by its words.
  • April 2 At the G-20 London summit, President Chavez and President Ahmadinejad announced the formation of a joint Iranian-Venezuelan development bank.
  • May 1 Iran rejected the April 2010 report by the U.S. State Department that designated Iran as the "most active state sponsor of terrorism." Tehran said that the United States could not accuse others of terrorism after its actions at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay.
  • May President Obama sent a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei before Iran's June presidential elections that called for improved relations through "co-operation and regional bilateral relations." Khamenei briefly mentioned the letter in his Friday sermon.
  • September An Iranian news website reported a second letter sent by President Obama to Ayatollah Khamenei.
  • October Iran blamed the United States and Britain for involvement in suicide bombings that killed 15 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards in southeastern Iran. The attack was carried out by the Sunni Muslim rebel group Jundollah, which Iran claimed was funded by the United States. The group had carried out a similar attack, killing 40, around five months earlier.
  • Oct. 21 Iran agreed to a U.S.- and U.N.-backed deal designed to provide fuel for Tehran's research reactor for medical needs and to remove a large part of Iran's enriched uranium from its control. The deal called for the transfer of 1,200 kg of low-enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment and then to France to produce fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. But Iran later backed off from the agreement.
  • Nov. 24 President Ahmadinejad arrived in Brazil as part of a five-nation tour of Senegal, Gambia, Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela. He was greeted by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, marking the first visit by an Iranian leader since 1965.
  • 2010
  • June 9 The U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1929, imposing additional sanctions on Iran.
  • March 20 President Obama sent a second Nowruz message to the Iranian government and people. The message encouraged dialogue between the two countries and criticized Iran's human rights violations during post-election protests.
  • April 13 President Ahmadinejad disclosed that he wrote a second letter to Obama. "Obama only has one way to tell the world that he has created change, and that is Iran," he said in a televised interview.
  • May 17 Iran accepted a proposal from Turkey and Brazil for a nuclear fuel swap deal in which Iran would send 1200 kg of its Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) to Turkey, a modified version of the deal Iran accepted, then rejected, in October 2009. The United States rejected the proposal, in part because Iran had increased its stockpile of enriched uranium. Washington then pushed for tougher U.N. sanctions.
  • June 9 The Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran in Resolution 1929.
  • June 12 The president of the Iran-China Joint Chamber of Commerce predicted that the annual trade between Iran and China would reach $50 billion in the next five years.
  • June 26 The U.S. Congress passed tough new sanctions against Iran's energy sector and IRGC affiliated companies. Congress also called for penalties against companies that export gasoline and other refined energy products to Iran.
  • July 26 The 27 European foreign ministers agreed on a comprehensive package of sanctions against Iran in the areas of trade, financial services, energy and transport, as well as additional designations for visa bans and asset freezes. Measures focused on Iranian banks, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

Semira Nikou is a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace. This article is presented by Tehran Bureau, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as part of the Iran project at iranprimer.usip.org.

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