Ahmed Sami Abdel-Fattah
The history of tension between the United States and Iran began in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution when a group of Iranian students stormed the American embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, taking more than 60 United States citizens hostage for 444 days, sparking an international crisis.
It also created a state of permanent deadlock between the U.S. and Iran, a standoff characterized by a pattern of sanctions over direct negotiations.
The U.S. response was so realistic; it stopped bilateral flights between the two countries, banned military cooperation and froze Iranian assets in US banks. In the 1980s, the United States supported Iraq, believing that by its ability to prevent Iran from exporting its revolution to neighboring countries.
In the early 1990s, the United States became fiercer and adopted a policy of “regime change”, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in which Iran found its support in the face of the United States of America.
In 1995, in response to the Iranian nuclear program and Iranian support for Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestine Islamic Jihad, which are considered terrorist organizations by the US, President Bill Clinton had issued several executive orders with respect to Iran.
The orders included Executive Order 12957 of March 15, 1995, banning U.S. investment in Iran’s energy sector, and Executive Order 12959 of May 6, 1995, which banned U.S. trade with and investment in Iran.
In 1996, the U.S. issued the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act, which was an act of the United States Congress that imposed economic sanctions on firms doing business with Iran and Libya, a move that was sought to force Iran into changing its hostile attitude.
Europe first adopted an engagement policy toward Iran in 1992 but then suspended it in 1997 after a German court found top Iranian officials complicit in terrorist killings in Berlin. The engagement policy was renewed, however, after Muhammad Khatami’s election as president later in 1997.
Europe resorted to what called as “Critical dialogue” with Iran, after the United States pledged not to sanction European companies operating in Iran, pointing out that rapprochement with Iran is possible under the condition that it must change its hostile policy in the region.
In 2003, relations between the two sides were strained. The United States invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein. Iran was expected to be the next country to be invaded, but the policy of invasion and overthrow of regimes was consistent with the Bush administration’s national security strategy In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
This strategy included pre-emptive strikes against the enemies of the United States. This strategy was implemented in both Syria and Iraq.
In the same year, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, elements of the Iranian government of Mohammad Khatami made a confidential proposal for a “Grand Bargain” through Swiss diplomatic channels. It offered full transparency of Iran’s nuclear program and withdrawal of support for Hamas and Hezbollah, in exchange for security assurances from the United States and a normalization of diplomatic relations. The Bush Administration did not respond to the proposal, and further condemned the Swiss mediation.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom undertook a diplomatic initiative with Iran to resolve questions about its nuclear program. On 21 October 2003, in Tehran, the Iranian government and EU-3 Foreign Ministers issued a statement known as the Tehran Declaration, in which Iran agreed to co-operate with the IAEA, to sign and implement an Additional Protocol as a voluntary, confidence-building measure, and to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities during the course of the negotiations.
The US administration rejected this agreement as an attempt by Iran to manipulate international organizations and to evade the sanctions it had been seeking to impose.
A comprehensive list of Iran’s specific “breaches” of its IAEA safeguards agreement, which the IAEA described as part of a “pattern of concealment,” can be found in a 15 November 2004 report of the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran attributes its failure to report certain acquisitions and activities on US obstructionism, which reportedly included pressuring the IAEA to cease providing technical assistance to Iran’s uranium conversion program in 1983.
Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator announced a voluntary and temporary suspension of its uranium enrichment program and the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol, after pressure from the United Kingdom, France, and Germany acting on behalf of the European Union.
In George Bush’s second term, the US stand towards Iran changed and the United States became more inclined to negotiate than ever before. Bush made a European trip through which he aimed to bring the Arab countries closer to Iran and assured the Europeans that they had no intention of attacking Iran at this time. The United States also announced a limited package of economic assistance to Iran and supported its membership in the World Trade Organization.
This happened for several reasons, most notably the deterioration of the situation of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, which means that the United States is not capable of fighting a new war, and the United States feared that Iran might target US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
More importantly, it was feared that Iran might attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, which will drive a blow to the global energy market, a direct threat to the allies of the United States.
The year 2005 witnessed a remarkable development in the Iranian nuclear file, especially after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who replaced the negotiating team with another more radical than before. He also rejected the European offer to send uranium abroad and import it again after its enrichment. Ahmadinejad has asserted that Iran is entitled to the whole production process.
Also in 2007, a report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicated that Iran refuses to cooperate with it. The IAEA also confirmed that it is not capable of determining whether Iran is trying to acquire a nuclear weapon. Moreover, the U.S. intelligence issued another report that Iran has stopped enriching uranium at the moment, but the high rate of enrichment confirms that Iran was seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon.
The United States used the idea of Iranian refusal to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to impose new sanctions, which Russia rejected on the grounds that Iran had stopped enriching uranium at the moment.