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US confrontation with Iran

Key Events

Project: US Confrontation with Iran
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1970s: MEK Kills US Personnel in Tehran

The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian political organization formed in the 1960s, kills US military personnel and US civilians working on defense projects in Tehran. MEK is currently led by husband and wife Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. MEK is part of a larger political organization know as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). [US Department of State, 4/30/2003; US Department of State, 4/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005; National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, 5/12/2005]

Entity Tags: People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Massoud Rajavi, Maryam Rajavi

Category Tags: US MEK policy, Key Events

The US State Department includes the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, in its list of foreign terrorist organizations. [Executive Office of the President, 9/12/2002 pdf file; Newsweek, 9/26/2002; US Department of State, 4/30/2003] MEK, which in English means, “People’s Holy Warriors,” [Christian Science Monitor, 7/29/2004] is later described by its former members as a cult. Its husband-and-wife leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, exercise absolute control over the group’s rank-and-file, requiring that members worship them and practice Mao-style self-denunciations. Many of the MEK’s members are tricked into joining the group. For example, the parents of Roshan Amini will tell the Christian Science Monitor in 2003 that their son joined because he had been told he would be able to complete two school grades in one year and earn a place in college. But after joining, Amini was not permitted to leave. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/31/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2004]

Entity Tags: Massoud Rajavi, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Maryam Rajavi

Category Tags: US MEK policy, Key Events

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz create a secretive, ad hoc intelligence bureau within the Pentagon that they mockingly dub “The Cabal.” This small but influential group of neoconservatives is tasked with driving US foreign policy and intelligence reporting towards the goal of promoting the invasion of Iraq. To this end, the group—which later is folded into the slightly more official Office of Special Plans (OSP) (see 2002-2003)—gathers and interprets raw intelligence data for itself, refusing the participation of the experts in the CIA and DIA, and reporting, massaging, manipulating, and sometimes falsifying that information to suit their ends. [New Yorker, 5/12/2003] In October 2005, Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, will say of the Cabal and the OSP (see October 2005), “What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. Now it is paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret, but far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences.” [Financial Times, 10/20/2005]

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, Paul Wolfowitz, Office of Special Plans, “The Cabal”, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, Douglas Feith, Lawrence Wilkerson, Defense Intelligence Agency, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Key Events

President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. [US President, 2/4/2002] Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004] When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Jeffrey St. Clair, Michael Gerson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations

Category Tags: Key Events, Diplomacy

In Paris, an unnamed Pentagon official (either Harold Rhode or Larry Franklin) meets with Manucher Ghorbanifar (Ghorbanifar says he did not attend this meeting [Washington Monthly, 9/2004] ), an Iranian arms trader who had been a central figure in the Iran-Contra affair. [Washington Post, 8/9/2003; New York Times, 12/7/2003] Though an unnamed senior Defense official claims the meeting resulted from “an unplanned, unscheduled encounter,” [Washington Post, 8/9/2003] Ghorbanifar later tells the Washington Monthly that “he arranged that meeting after a flurry of faxes between himself and [Defense Department] official Harold Rhode.” According to Ghorbanifar, an Egyptian and an Iraqi are present at the meeting and brief the Pentagon official about the general situation in Iraq and the Middle East, and what would happen in Iraq if the US were to invade. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004] But other reports will suggest that Ledeen and Ghorbanifar may have discussed US collaboration with the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, a US-designated terrorist group, as a means to destabilize the Iranian regime. [Boston Globe, 8/31/2004] The meeting, which took place without White House approval, was preceded by a similar meeting involving Pentagon officials and Ghorbanifar that took place seven months earlier (see December 9, 2001). [Washington Post, 8/9/2003] When Secretary of State Colin Powell learns of the meeting, he complains directly to Condoleezza Rice and the office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. [Newsday, 8/9/2003; Washington Post, 8/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Larry Franklin, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Harold Rhode, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Key Events, Opposition Groups

Israelis and US intelligence assets begin entering Iran, using third country passports, to create a network of front companies. The companies are intended to be used for funneling money, weapons, and additional operatives into the country. “It’s a covert infrastructure for material support,” a US administration official tells United Press International in January 2005. Vincent Cannistraro, a former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center who is also interviewed by UPI, says he is aware of these covert actions in Iran but doubts that they will be effective. He notes that the US did something similar in 1980 before the failed hostage rescue attempt. “People forget that the Iranians quickly rolled up that entire network after the rescue attempt failed,” he says. [United Press International, 1/26/2005]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro, Israel, United States

Category Tags: Key Events, Covert/Clandestine Operations

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh interviews a former high-level intelligence official on the topic of the military’s increased control over US covert operations, the waning power of the CIA, and the administration’s plans to act militarily against Iran. According to the former official, the Defense Department has almost a free reign in the covert activities it oversees. “The Pentagon doesn’t feel obligated to report any of this to Congress,” the official says. “They don’t even call it ‘covert ops’—it’s too close to the CIA phrase. In their view, it’s ‘black reconnaissance.’ They’re not even going to tell the cincs [the regional American military commanders-in-chief].” On Iran, the former official is clear about the administration’s intent. “This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign,” the former official says. “The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone. Next, we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah—we’ve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.” He says an invasion is not conditional in any way. “It’s not if we’re going to do anything against Iran. They’re doing it.” The source suggests that the administration will present its intentions to the public much differently than it did in the case of Iraq. “We’ve got some lessons learned—not militarily, but how we did it politically. We’re not going to rely on agency pissants,” explains the former official. “No loose ends, and that’s why the CIA is out of there.” [New Yorker, 1/24/2005]

Entity Tags: US Congress

Timeline Tags: US Military

Category Tags: Key Events

India announces that it has agreed to a $40 billion deal with Iran. Under the terms of the agreement, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) will sell 5 million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) annually to India over a 25-year period with the possibility of increasing the quantity to 7.5 million tons. India’s price will be computed at 0.065 of Brent crude average plus $1.2 with an upper ceiling of $31 per barrel. As part of the deal, India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) will participate in the development of Yadavaran, Iran’s largest oil field. India’s share in the oil field will be 20 percent, which translates into roughly 60,000 barrels per day of oil. Iran has retained a 30 percent stake while the Chinese state oil company Sinopec secured a 50 percent share in an agreement signed at the end of October (see October 29, 2004). India’s deal with Iran will also provide India with 100 percent of the rights in the 300,000-barrel-per-day Jufeir oilfield. [Asia Times, 1/11/2005; World Peace Herald, 1/17/2005] The agreement could give new impetus to the long proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project (see 1993). The Tehran Times, which is known to represent the views of the Iranian government, comments, “The Iran-India agreement on LNG exports will pave the way for the implementation of the project to pipe Iranian gas to India via Pakistan and the dream of the peace pipeline could become a reality in the near future.” [Asia Times, 1/11/2005]

Entity Tags: National Iranian Oil Company, Sinopec, ONGC Videsh

Category Tags: Iran-India pipeline, Key Events, Geopolitics, Oil and Gas

John Bolton.John Bolton. [Source: Publicity photo via American Enterprise Institute]President George Bush selects John Bolton, currently an official in the State Department, to be the US ambassador to the UN. Bolton is a staunch neoconservative with a long record of opposing multilateral efforts. As undersecretary of state for arms control, Bolton opposed a multilateral effort in July 2001 to create broad worldwide controls on the sale of small arms (see July 9, 2001). In February 2002, Bolton made it clear that the Bush administration did not feel bound to the 1978 pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states (see February 2002). Bolton was also a strong advocate of taking unilateral action against Saddam Hussein (see January 26, 1998) and in May 2002, he effectively removed the US signature from the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) (see May 6, 2002). [USA Today, 3/7/2005]

Entity Tags: John R. Bolton, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Key Events, Diplomacy

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the US is opposed to the proposed Iran-India-Pakistan gas pipeline because it would strengthen Iran and thus negatively affect the United States economically. “Our views concerning Iran are very well known by this time, and we have communicated our concerns about gas pipeline cooperation,” she says. [Al Jazeera, 3/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice

Category Tags: Iran-India pipeline, Key Events

As expected (see March 8, 2005), the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction concludes that the CIA’s intelligence on Iran is weak. The nine-member commission, headed by Federal appeals court judge, Laurence Silberman, and Charles S. Robb, a former governor and senator from Virginia, finds that US intelligence had few human assets in Iran and only limited direct knowledge of Iran’s missile and nuclear programs. [New York Times, 3/9/2005; Los Angeles Times, 4/1/2005; Middle East Newsline, 4/2/2005]

Category Tags: Key Events, US Intel on Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors passes a resolution declaring Iran in non-compliance with its safeguard obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The resolution calls on Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activity, cease construction on a heavy water research reactor, and provide agency inspectors access to research and development locations and documentation. The resolution also calls on Iran to “[p]romptly… ratify and implement in full the Additional Protocol,” which would require Iran to allow short-notice inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. [International Atomic Energy Agency. Board of Governors, 9/24/2005 pdf file] Iran has signed but not ratified it. [Washington Post, 9/27/2005] If Iran fails to comply with this resolution, the board could decide at its next meeting in November to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. A referral to the Security Council would set the stage for the possible imposition of sanctions on Iran. Iran has repeatedly stated that it will not relinquish its right under the NPT to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The resolution, sponsored by Britain, France, and Germany, passes with 22 votes. Twelve countries abstain, including Russia, China, Pakistan, South Africa and Brazil, and only one—Venezuela—opposes the resolution. India, under strong pressure from the US (see September 10, 2005), backs the resolution, despite its close ties to Iran. The resolution marks the third time in two decades that an IAEA resolution has not been approved unanimously. [BBC, 9/25/2005; Associated Press, 9/25/2005; Washington Post, 9/25/2005; Economic Times (Gurgaon, India), 9/26/2005] Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki calls the resolution “politically motivated, illegal, and illogical,” asserting that the “three European countries implemented a planned scenario already determined by the United States.” [Economic Times (Gurgaon, India), 9/26/2005]

Category Tags: Key Events, Oil and Gas

President Barack Obama releases a video message directed at Iran. The White House sends the message to commemorate the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, or “New Day,” the Iranian New Year. Obama begins by lauding the history and culture of the Iranian people. He acknowledges that the US and Iran continue to have strained and difficult relations, but says, “[A]t this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together.” Obama promises that the US will work to build a strong relationship through honest, respectful diplomacy. To Iran’s governmental leaders, he says: “You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right—but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.” He concludes by quoting a famous Iranian poet and giving holiday greetings in Farsi: “I know that this won’t be reached easily. There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: ‘The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.’ With the coming of a new season, we’re reminded of this precious humanity that we all share. And we can once again call upon this spirit as we seek the promise of a new beginning. Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak [Happy New Year].” [White House, 3/19/2009; White House, 3/19/2009; Washington Post, 3/20/2009]
'Groundbreaking' Message May Force Iranian Hardliners to Give Ground - Reaction to the message is mixed. The New York Times calls the message “groundbreaking,” and notes that Obama’s use of the proper name of the country—“The Islamic Republic of Iran”—acknowledges the nation’s theological governance in a respectful manner not done by members of the Bush administration and, the Washington Post observes, “signaling an apparent break from President George W. Bush’s unstated promotion of a change of leadership.” Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, says of the message: “That wording is designed to demonstrate acceptance of the government of Iran. The message is dripping with sincerity and directly addresses one of the things they are most concerned about.” Iranian officials acknowledge the message, but say that Obama’s actions must live up to his words, and past grievances, such as the US 1988 downing of an Iranian airliner, must be redressed. A senior government official, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, says: “This cannot only be done by us, we cannot simply forget what the US did to our nation. They need to perceive what wrong orientation they had and make serious efforts to make up for it.” A former Iranian ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi, says: “Obama had no practical suggestion that we can work with. This is a lost opportunity.” But Iranian-American expert Karim Sadjadpour says that Obama’s message will force the Iranian government to, in the words of the Times, “put up or shut up on prospects for better relations with the United States.” Sadjadpour says: “What this message does is, it puts the hard-liners in a difficult position, because where the Bush administration united disparate Iranian political leaders against a common threat, what Obama is doing is accentuating the cleavages in Iran. It makes the hard-liners look increasingly like they are the impediment.” [New York Times, 3/20/2009; Washington Post, 3/20/2009]
Neoconservative: Obama 'Kowtowing' to Iranian Government - Neoconservative William Kristol deplores the message, calling it little more than a “message of weakness” and criticizing Obama for not calling on the Iranian government to emphasize “liberty,” “freedom,” “democracy,” and “human rights.” Kristol writes, “[W]hat’s distinctive about Obama’s statement is his respect for the ‘leaders,’ the clerical dictatorship,” to whom Obama is “kowtowing.” Kristol deplores Obama’s failure to echo the Bush administration’s call for regime change in Iran, and criticizes Obama’s failure to call for an end to Iran’s nuclear program. “Obama doesn’t believe in threats,” Kristol writes. “He believes that we should speak nicely to our enemies, and carry no stick.” [Weekly Standard, 3/30/2009]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, Barack Obama, Martin Indyk, William Kristol, Karim Sadjadpour, Washington Post, Sadegh Kharrazi, Obama administration

Category Tags: Key Events, Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Neoconservative Hawks

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