In December 1953, US President Dwight Eisenhower stood before the United Nations to deliver his “Atoms for Peace” speech.
In his address, he detailed a policy seeking to provide technology and educational resources for friendly nations interested in developing a nuclear programme for civilian purposes, including energy production.
As an ally of the United States, Iran became one of the first beneficiaries of the programme.
In 1957, the two countries signed an agreement in Washington, DC, formalising their cooperation in order for Tehran to begin developing atomic energy for civilian purposes.
By 1974, US President Richard Nixon had sent experts to Tehran to help the country build its nuclear reactors. The US also helped train the first batch of Iran’s nuclear scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Some of them would eventually help modernise Iran’s nuclear reactors.
Here’s a brief history of Iran’s nuclear programme, and its storied relationship with the United States.
Iran and the United States sign an agreement concerning civil uses of atomic energy. It is part of the “Atoms for Peace” policy declared by Eisenhower in 1953.
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, under whose rule Iran was a close ally of the US and the UK, establishes the Tehran Nuclear Research Center.
Shah Reza Pahlavi announces a plan for Iran to build at least 20 nuclear reactors. Two months later, Nixon sends experts to Tehran to help in the building of the reactors.
Iranian students arrive in the US to train as nuclear scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to the Boston Globe, at least three of the 35 graduates will dedicate their careers building Iran’s nuclear programme.
At the height of the Iranian Revolution, the shah and his family flee the country. Less than a month later, Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran after 14 years in exile. Following the revolution, Iran’s nuclear energy programme is temporarily halted.
Iranian students storm the US embassy in Iran and take diplomats hostage, leading to a diplomatic breach that continues up to this day. The hostages are released 444 days later on January 21, 1981 at the beginning of US President Ronald Reagan’s term in office.
With US backing, Iraq launches a military attack against Iran, igniting the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, during which Iran will feel an energy crunch. As the war with Iraq rages on, Iran resumes its interest in a national nuclear programme.
Following the first US-led Gulf War against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Iran begins to dedicate funds to speed up its research and development of nuclear power. In 1995, it signs several deals with Russia for the development of its nuclear programme.
The administration of US President George W Bush accuses Iran of pursuing a secret nuclear weapons plan. Months earlier, the exiled opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran will report the existence of a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water plant at Arak.
An IAEA report on the inspections says that Iran has failed to comply with the NPT. More than a year later, Iran promises European Union (EU) negotiators that it will suspend all nuclear fuel processing and reprocessing work.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, mayor of Tehran, is elected president. Months later, the IAEA will report that Iran has resumed uranium conversion at the Isfahan nuclear research facility.
The UN Security Council votes for sanctions and gives Iran a 60-day deadline to suspend enrichment. Iran calls the resolution illegal.
The UN Security Council unanimously approves further financial and weapons sanctions against Iran over its uranium-enrichment activities, which Tehran says are for peaceful purposes.
The US imposes new sanctions on Iran and accuses the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of distributing weapons of mass destruction. A month later, China, France, Russia, the UK, the US and Germany (P5+1, or “the group of six”) will agree to push ahead with a third round of tougher sanctions.
A US National Intelligence Estimate says Iran halted its attempts to build a nuclear bomb in 2003. It also says with “moderate confidence” that the programme has not resumed as of mid-2007.
A quarterly IAEA report says Iran now has 7,231 centrifuge enrichment machines installed, a 25 percent increase in potential capacity since March. Two months later, the IAEA will say that Iran has slightly reduced the scale of its uranium enrichment, while also raising the number of installed centrifuge machines by some 1,000, to 8,308.
The six world powers – P5+1 – and Iran launch a new round of negotiations in Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul.
Rouhani has an historic phone call with US President Barack Obama.
Secret US-Iran talks are revealed. Iran agrees to curb certain nuclear activities and accept enhanced IAEA monitoring. In return, minor sanctions are lifted, and Iran is promised that no new sanctions will be imposed. The deal is considered temporary until a new, broader agreement is reached.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launches a last-ditch effort to stop the Iran nuclear deal by delivering a speech before the US Congress.
Iran and the six world powers sign the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The accord ends nearly 12 years of a nuclear standoff between Iran and Western powers led by the US. In exchange of Iran giving up its nuclear weapons programme, international sanctions are lifted.
International sanctions against Iran are lifted after the IAEA’s Yukiya Amano says that Tehran has complied with its side of the July 2015 agreement.
Rouhani is re-elected as president. During his first term, Rouhani vowed that economic sanctions in Iran will be lifted.
IAEA’s Yukiya Amano says Iran has continued to implement its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. It is the 10th IAEA report certifying Iran’s compliance with the deal.
Netanyahu delivers a speech saying that Iran pursued a “secret nuclear programme”, but experts say there was nothing new to what was said.
The EU’s Federica Mogherini and other US allies say that Iran continues to abide by the JCPOA since it was signed in 2015.
Experts also say Netanyahu’s speech proves that inspections are necessary, and that ending the deal can lead to an end of regular inspections.
Trump announces that the United States is withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, directing his administration to re-impose sanctions.
In response, Rouhani says Tehran will bypass Washington and negotiate with the other signatories of the deal.
US President Donald Trump’s first round of sanctions against Iran takes effect.
Trump’s sanctions were designed in two phases, based on the 90-day and 180-day wind-down periods set by the US Department of Treasury, counting from the May 8 announcement.
The first phase targeted aviation and auto industry, as well as its currency and the sale of Iranian products such as carpets, caviar and pistachios.
Second round of US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and gas industry, as well as its banking, is reimposed.
Iran has vowed to defy the sanctions and said it will continue to trade energy, which is the source of up to 80 percent of the country’s export revenues.