Why is Iran important to the US

Iran - USA: Deep-rooted hostility

January 20, 1981 was the last day in office for then US President Jimmy Carter. It was the first day at liberty for 52 American hostages in the occupied US embassy in Tehran. After being held hostage for 444 days, they were able to travel to their homeland. In turn, frozen Iranian assets in the United States worth nearly $ 8 billion were released. The hostage-taking has gone down in the collective memory of both peoples.

The failed rescue operation with US helicopters crashing in the desert in April 1980 contributed to Carter's defeat by Ronald Reagan in the presidential election that year. Books dealt with the subject, Hollywood also worked on the subject.

"Second Revolution Against Satan USA"

The attack on the US diplomats was also a turning point in the history of the Iranian revolution: Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan resigned in protest against the attack by radical Iranian students on the US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. With his resignation, the politician of the liberal-Islamic wing of the revolution left the political stage to the religious-conservative revolutionaries around Ayatollah Khomeini. After this turning point, the latter continuously expanded their power and marginalized all other political forces. Ayatollah Khomeini was enthusiastic about the occupation of the US embassy in Tehran: He described it as "the second revolution against the great Satan USA."

The US embassy in Tehran was stormed by a group of Islamist students. 66 employees were taken hostage

Out of "solidarity with the oppressed layers of society in the imperialist USA", the Ayatollah released all female and African American US citizens from among the 66 hostages, a total of 13 people. US Vice Consul Richard Queen was released a few months later on "humanitarian grounds" because of his poor health.

For the release of the 52 remaining hostages, Iran demanded the extradition of Iran's last king: Shah Mohammadreza Pahlavi, who was suffering from cancer, was in a hospital in New York for treatment. For the revolutionaries, the Shah was a puppet of the USA, who owed his throne solely to the US secret service CIA. In 1953 he organized the overthrow of the first democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. The United States later helped the Shah set up his notorious Savak secret service and systematically suppressed its critics.

Terrorist attacks against US targets

The United States rejected the revolutionaries' call for the Shah to be extradited. However, he was initially transferred to Panama - with no hope of recovery - and died in Cairo in July 1980.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    Ardent advocate of Iranian interests

    Mohammed Mossadegh was Iran's first democratically elected Prime Minister from 1951 until his fall in 1953 - with a brief interruption. Educated, eloquent, and charismatic, he also had many admirers in the West. For the third world countries he became a kind of icon of anti-imperialism because he dared to nationalize the British oil industry in Iran.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    Oil for the Empire

    The British had had a virtual monopoly on Iranian oil since 1909. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) - today's British Petroleum (BP) - had negotiated contracts in colonial style, under which the Empire siphoned off millions in profits every year. Iran, on the other hand, received only small royalties.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    Working in the scorching sun

    The British shamelessly exploited the Iranian oil workers. In Abadan, the site of the largest Iranian refinery, the workers lived in catastrophic conditions in slums and toiled for the AIOC, which opposed any improvement in the standard of living. Iranian politicians have been demanding renegotiations of the treaties since the end of World War II, but bit the British on granite.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    "Nationalization or Death!"

    In 1951 the situation came to a head. Mohammed Mossadegh, who has just become Prime Minister, ordered the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry. The British reacted indignantly, withdrew all British experts and imposed an oil embargo on Iran. The so-called "Abadan Crisis" brought Iran to the brink of bankruptcy over the next two years.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    Ambivalent Americans

    The British also turned to the United States for help. But US President Truman strictly refused to intervene. Truman was divided: On the one hand, he did not want to alienate the British allies with him. On the other hand, he sympathized with Mossadegh and believed that only a free, economically strong Iran could withstand the communist influence of the USSR.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    Dwindling stability

    But Iran's ongoing economic crisis was having an effect: slowly more radical currents were also gaining popularity - like the communist Tudeh party. In several mass demonstrations she called for the expulsion of the Americans and the British and for the country to turn to Moscow. Yet the US still believed that Mossadegh was in control of the domestic political situation.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    Two options change everything

    But then at the end of 1951 Winston Churchill came back to power in London. A year later, Truman in Washington is inherited by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Churchill skillfully conjures up the danger of a communist overthrow in Iran. Eisenhower, who already had good experiences with secret service operations in World War II, agrees to a CIA action to overthrow Mossadegh.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    "Operation Ajax" begins

    In July 1953, CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt travels to Iran. He convinces the Shah (right in the picture) to dismiss Mossadegh and to appoint General Fazlollah Zahedi, a front man of Western interests, as the new prime minister. A courier should bring the signed discharge papers to Mossadegh, Mossadegh himself should be placed under house arrest immediately upon receipt.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    Organized chaos

    At the same time, the CIA caused chaos in Tehran. It bribed politicians, clergy, journalists and workers and thus incited supporters and opponents of Mossadegh against one another. The agents didn't care who got the upper hand on the street. The only thing that was important was to stage the Shah as the savior of the people, who should deploy the army loyal to him to restore peace and order.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    Escape to Rome

    But the first attempted coup on August 15, 1953 failed. Mossadegh had got wind of the plans. He had some Iranian ringleaders arrested and put a bounty on General Zahedi, who went into hiding. When the Shah learned that the mood was turning to his disadvantage, he fled the country: first to Baghdad, then to Rome.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    Deceptive security

    On August 18, 1953, Mossadegh looked like the sure winner. But he assumed a plot by the Shah and the British. Little did he know that the US was also involved. For the following day, Mossadegh called on his supporters to stay at home to prevent further escalation of violence on Tehran's streets. Mossadegh did not expect a second coup attempt.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    The mood changes

    CIA agent Roosevelt mobilized the masses again. On August 19, they took to the streets for the Shah - this time without resistance from Mossadegh supporters. The Shah's dismissal certificates were copied thousands of times and distributed among the population. More and more police and military units joined the demonstrators and stormed the Foreign Ministry and the police headquarters.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    Decisive battle in front of Mossadegh's house

    Supported by a column of tanks, a crowd advanced to Mossadegh's private house. A street battle broke out there between supporters and opponents of the prime minister, killing more than 200 people. When the Shah supporters stormed the house, Mossadegh fled over the garden wall. Five days later he surrendered and was arrested by his adversary General Zahedi.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    Sole ruler by the grace of Washington

    On August 22, 1953, the Shah returned from Rome. In the following years he established a military dictatorship, which was massively supported by the USA. With American help, he also built the notorious SAVAK secret police. The nationalization of oil production was reversed - almost half of the income from it went to American companies.

  • The CIA and the Mossadegh coup in Iran

    End of a bearer of hope

    After his arrest, Mossadegh was tried for high treason and sentenced to three years in prison. Released from prison in December 1956, Mossadegh withdrew to his private house in Ahmad Abad - guarded by employees of the SAVAK secret service. From then on, Mossadegh was no longer allowed to leave his home village. He died on March 5, 1967.

    Author: Thomas Latschan


In response to the hostage-taking, the US severed diplomatic relations with Iran, a situation that continues to this day. Washington issued a number of emergency measures against Iran, including banning arms exports to Iran and banning all contracts with the Iranian government or Iranian companies. These sanctions remained in place for decades and still apply today, with the exception of a brief thaw after the 2015 nuclear deal.

The sanctions have been tightened steadily over the years. For example in 1983, after bomb attacks by pro-Iranian militias first on the US embassy in Lebanon and later on a US base in Beirut. The attack on the US embassy killed 60 people. 299 soldiers and six civilians were killed in the attack on the US base. The US put Iran on the list of "terrorism supportive states".

Iran soon felt the US sanctions during the eight-year bloody war against Iraq. Iraq's ruler Saddam Hussein wanted to use the turmoil of the revolution and attacked Iran on September 22, 1980. His goal: to conquer the oil areas in southern Iran and to bring the Persian Gulf under his control. While the US actively supported Iraq, Iran struggled to supply its troops with weapons and ammunition.

Tragic error of the "USS Vincennes"

Shortly before the end of that 1st Gulf War, the US Navy shot down an Iranian passenger plane over the Persian Gulf in July 1988. 290 people died, including 248 Iranians. The US 5th Fleet had sent several ships to the region to secure oil supplies from the Persian Gulf. The US cruiser "Vincennes", equipped with the most modern radar and air defense system, had falsely identified the Iranian Airbus as an attacking fighter-bomber.

This tragic error has left a strong mark on the collective memory of the Iranians. The USA did pay compensation to the bereaved after years of conflict. But they never made an apology.

The then Vice-President George H. W. Bush, at that time in the election campaign for the successor to Ronald Reagan, even praised the captain of the "Vincennes", William Rogers, and defended him against criticism for having acted too aggressively. Roger was even later honored for his service on the ship.

Dispute over the nuclear program

In the 1990s and 2000s, the US imposed new sanctions on Iran. The reason was Tehran's secret military nuclear program, about which more and more information leaked out. At that time, US President George W. Bush coined the term "axis of evil", on which he located not only Iran but also Iraq and North Korea. After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, on the grounds of alleged weapons of mass destruction in the possession of Saddam Hussein, the Europeans, more precisely: Germany, France and Great Britain, took the initiative: They wanted both the "Iranian bomb" through diplomacy. and prevent another war in the region.

During the nuclear negotiations, the Iranian and American foreign ministers are photographed together for the first time

The negotiations dragged on for twelve years until the international agreement on the Iranian nuclear program could be signed in July 2015. In return for Iran's controlled shutdown of its nuclear activities, the United Nations, the European Union and the US gradually lifted their economic sanctions. International surveillance against more trade - this was the "deal" that was supposed to banish the danger of an Iranian bomb.

Trump-era dark clouds

However, in his 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump promised to get out of the agreement. In May 2018, he kept his promise. In the following two years, his government imposed or renewed the toughest economic sanctions as part of a "strategy of maximum pressure" in order to force Iran to a "better deal" with the USA. The plan did not work, Iran now has more than ten times as much enriched uranium as allowed under the agreement and continues unabated with its graduated violations of nuclear requirements.

In the meantime, the USA dealt a severe blow to Iran's striving for regional supremacy: in January 2020, it killed Kassem Soleimani, the influential commander of the Al-Kuds Brigades beyond Iran's borders, using a targeted drone attack. A great loss for the spiritual and supreme leader Ali Khamenei. It promises revenge.

"Regardless of who takes power in the USA: Do not forget the hostility to the USA," said Ayatollah Khamenei in a speech in mid-December to the officials of the Islamic Republic. He will never trust the "great Satan". The new US President Biden wants to return to the nuclear deal with Iran. Prerequisite: Iran fulfills all of its obligations under this agreement.

So far there have been no signs of concessions from Tehran: Iran's "final and decisive" position is that the US must first lift its sanctions against the Islamic Republic, Khamenei said on January 8th. A life without sanctions is "a right of the Iranians that was violated by Washington," he says in his televised language. How it came about that the Iranians have lived under sanctions for more than 40 years, Khamenei said nothing.