Iran-US standoff: A timeline of key events

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have spiked, fears of a war have increased, but, how did we get here?

    Key events

    Ever since Donald Trump withdrew the US from a multilateral deal on Tehran's nuclear programme tensions between the two nations have been on the rise.

    The US administration has repeatedly hit Iran with harsh sanctions exacerbating the sharp decline of the country's economy. 

    Recently, the rancour has escalated even further following the downing of a US surveillance drone by the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

    But how did both countries get here? Below is a timeline of the key events that have led to the current situation. 

    Iran nuclear deal

    On May 8, 2018, Trump made good on his campaign promise and announces he is withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA).

    "I made clear that if the deal could not be fixed, the United States would no longer be a party to the agreement," Trump says.


    "The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we will know what exactly will happen.

    "Therefore, I am announcing today, that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal," he adds.

    The deal had tightly restricted Iran's nuclear ambitions in return for ending sanctions that had severely damaged its economy.

    In response, Iran says that it will continue to abide by the terms of the deal, President Hassan Rouhani also criticises Trump for pulling out of the pact. 

    US twelve demands 

    On May 21, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lays out the Trump administration's twelve demands for a new agreement for Iran.

    Pompeo says Iran must give full details of its nuclear programme and to withdraw support for groups in the region. 

    First round of sanctions 

    On August 7, the US administration reimposes the first round of sanctions on Iran, originally lifted as part of the nuclear deal.

    They prohibit trade with a number of Iranian business sectors, including aviation, carpets, pistachios and gold. 

    US Sanctions against Iran
    Infographics by Al Jazeera's Alia Chughtai

    Second round of sanctions 

    On November 5, the US campaign intensifies with a new round of sanctions, this time specifically targeting oil and banking sectors.

    US sanctions against Iran - Second infograpic
    Infographics by Al Jazeera's Alia Chughtai


    'Foreign terrorist organisation' 

    On April 8, 2019, Trump announces he is designating a powerful arm of the Iranian military, its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organisation .

    It is the first time Washington has formally labelled another country's military a "terrorist group."

    Responding to the move, Iran immediately declares the US as "state sponsor of terrorism" and US forces in the region "terrorist groups."

    The designation imposes wide-ranging economic and travel sanctions on the group that go into effect on April 15.

    Iran's Revolutionary Guard troops march in a military parade marking the 36th anniversary of Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran, in front of the shrine of late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just
     Iran's Revolutionary Guard troops march in a military parade just outside Tehran, Iran [File: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP]

    US sends aircraft carrier to the Middle East 

    On May 5, Bolton announces the US is sending an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East "in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings".

    "The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or regular Iranian forces," Bolton says in a statement.

    More sanctions 

    On May 8, Iran says it is preparing to increase enriched uranium and heavy water production as part of its decision to stop certain commitments made under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

    A year after Washington unilaterally withdrew from the deal and later reimposed sanctions on Tehran, President Trump announces new measures against Iran's steel and mining sectors.

    In June, Washington hits Iran's petrochemical group PGPIC - the country's largest and most profitable, with sanctions.

    Saudi oil tankers and ships damaged in attacks 

    On May 12, two Saudi oil tankers and two other ships are damaged in mysterious "sabotage attacks" off the coast of Fujairah, part of the United Arab Emirates.

    Fujairah is the only Emirati terminal located on the Arabian Sea, bypassing the Strait of Hormuz through which most Gulf oil exports pass.

    Iran, which has repeatedly threatened to close the strait in case of a military confrontation with the United States, calls the incidents "alarming and regrettable".

    Houthi attacks

    Yemen's Houthi rebels launch drone attacks on Saudi Arabia on May 14, striking a major oil pipeline and taking it out of service.

    Two days later, Riyadh, a key US ally, blames Iran for the drone attack on its pipeline.

    The US and Saudi Arabia accuse Iran of arming the Houthis, but Tehran denies the claim.

    Saudi Arabia's King Salman hosts three high-level summits in Mecca on May 31 and June 1, drawing heads of state from across the Middle East and Muslim countries to present a unified Muslim and Arab position on Iran. 

    'Never threaten the US' 

    On May 19, a rocket lands near the US embassy in Baghdad.

    No one is harmed. It's not clear who is behind the attack, but Trump tweets: "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!"

    Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responds by tweeting that Trump had been "goaded" into "genocidal taunts".

    War of words 

    Trump warns on May 19 that if Iran attacks American interests "that will be the official end of Iran".

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says the "genocidal taunts" of US Trump will not "end Iran".

    On May 27, Trump says the US is "not looking for regime change" in Iran.

    Additional troops to the Middle East 

    On May 24, Trump orders 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East to increase protection of American forces already there.

    He also circumvents Congress and declares an emergency over Iran, moving ahead with arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan that have blocked by Congress since last year. 

    Shinzo Abe in Tehran 

    On June 12, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives in Tehran in a bid to mediate between Washington and Tehran.

    A day later, he meets Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who tells him: "I don't consider Trump as a person worthy of exchanging messages with. I have no response for him and will not answer him."

    New shipping incident 

    On June 13, two tankers, Norwegian and Japanese, come under "attack" in the Gulf of Oman, according to the Norwegian maritime authority and the Japanese shipowner.

    The US Fifth Fleet says that it received two separate distress calls from the tankers in a "reported attack".

    Iran speaks initially of "accidents" and says it rescued 44 crew. Foreign Minister Zarif says the tanker "attacks" as Abe visits are "suspicious".

    More troops 

    On June 17, the Pentagon authorises moving an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East.

    On the same date, Iran says it is 10 days away from surpassing the limits set by the nuclear deal on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

    Iran also reiterates that it could reverse the new measures if the European signatories in the nuclear deal step in and make an effort to circumvent US sanctions. 

    "I think until now the Europeans have not done their part and they've wasted a lot of time," the spokesperson for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi said during a press conference.

    "They have given us a lot of good words but not deeds."

    US Drone is shot down 

    On June 20, Iran forces shoot down a US military drone. Both nations confirm the incident but they disagree about the location of the aircraft. 

    The US says it was flying above international waters. Iran says the drone was flying in Iranian airspace.

    Trump says he has called off an attack

    On June 21, Trump tweets that he called off an attack on Iran the night before, which had been intended to retaliate against Tehran for the destruction of the surveillance drone. 

    Trump says he did so 10 minutes before the planned attack because of potential casualties, saying it was "not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone".


    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies