The region was occupied by the Medes and the Persians in the 1500s B.C. until Cyrus the Great overthrew the Medes and became ruler of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire. Persia fell to Alexander in 331-330 B.C. and a succession of other rulers: the Seleucids (312-302 B.C.), the Parthians (247 B.C.-A.D. 226), the Sasanians (224-640), and the Arab Muslims in 641. In the 12th century, Persia was invaded by the Mongols. Shiite Islam became the dominant religion of the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) until it was replaced by the Qajar dynasty (1794-1925).
During the Qajar dynasty, the Russians and British fought for economic control of the area. During World War I, Iran's neutrality did not stop it from becoming a battlefield for Russian and British troops. Reza Kahn came to power in a coup in 1921. In 1925, he became shah and changed his name to Reza Shah Pahlavi.
The country's pro-Axis allegiance in World War II led to Anglo-Russian occupation of Iran in 1941 and deposition of the shah in favor of his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Pahlavi's authoritarian rule led to massive demonstrations during the 1970s. In September 1978, the shah imposed martial law. The shah fled Iran on January 16, 1979, and the exiled cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, returned to establish an Islamic theocracy. Khomeini urged women to return to wearing the veil, banned alcohol, shut down the media, closed universities, and eliminated political parties.
On November 04, 1979, militants invaded the U.S. embassy in Tehran and seized staff members as hostages. It became an international crisis. Khomeini refused all appeals demanding immediate release of the hostages. On January 20, 1981, the 52 American hostages were finally released.
A territorial dispute over control of the Shatt-al-Arab waterway between Iraq and Iran broke into full-scale war on September 20, 1980, when Iraq invaded Iran. For several years, Iran and Iraq fought an indecisive war that eventually expanded into the Persian Gulf and led to clashes between US Navy and Iranian military forces between 1987 and 1988.
On July 20, 1988, Khomeini agreed to cease-fire negotiations with Iraq. The cease-fire went into effect on August 20, 1988. Khomeini died in June 1989 and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei succeeded him as the supreme leader.
Mohammed Khatami, won the presidential election with 70% of the vote on May 23, 1997. Signaling a change in Iran's political environment, reform candidates won the overwhelming majority of seats in February 2000 parliamentary elections. Khatami won re-election in June 2001.
In January 2002, President George W. Bush announced that Iran was part of an "axis of evil," along with North Korea and Iraq, calling it one of the most active state sponsors of international terrorism.
In June 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) criticized Iran's concealment of much of its nuclear facilities and called on the country to permit more rigorous inspections of its nuclear sites. In December, under intense international pressure, Iran agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment program and allow for thorough IAEA inspections.
On December 26, 2003, an earthquake devastated the city of Bam, killing an estimated two-thirds of its residents.
In February 2004, Iran's reformist movement suffered a landslide defeat in parliamentary elections. The Guardian Council had disqualified more than 2,500 reformist candidates, including more than 80 who were already members of parliament.
The IAEA passed a resolution calling on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program in September 2004. Iran rejected the proposal claiming its program is for peaceful purposes only.
In June 2005, former Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidential election. In August 2005, Ahmadinejad rejected an EU disarmament plan that was backed by the U.S.
In January 2006, Iran removed UN seals on uranium enrichment equipment and resumed nuclear research. France, Britain, and Germany called off nuclear talks with Iran, and along with the U.S., threatened to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. Russia and China refused to endorse the sanctions. In April, Iran announced it had successfully enriched uranium. An UN Security Council resolution passed in July, demanding that Iran halt its nuclear activities by the end of August or face possible sanctions.
In May 2007, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was using about 1,300 centrifuges and producing fuel for nuclear reactors. In September, Iran followed the IAEA's finding with the announcement that it had reached its goal of developing 3,000 active centrifuges.
A National Intelligence Estimate, released in December 2007 and compiled by the 16 agencies of the U.S. intelligence community, reported "with high confidence" that Iran had frozen its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The report contradicted one written in 2005 that stated Iran was determined to continue developing such weapons. The report suggests that Iran had bowed to international pressure and ended its pursuit of an atomic bomb.
In May 2008, Parliament overwhelmingly elected former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani as speaker.
Iran test fired nine missiles in July 2008, which could reach parts of Israel. A commander of the Revolutionary Guard said, "The aim of these war games is to show we are ready to defend the integrity of the Iranian nation." The U.S. and Israel both condemned the action. Days later, Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, met with representatives from the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Russia, and China to discuss the country's nuclear program. Iran refused to accept a proposal to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for a pledge by the six nations not to seek further sanctions against Iran.
Iran launched a satellite into orbit in January 2009, which coincided with Iran's celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election on June 12, 2009, taking almost 63% of the vote. The main challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi, received just under 34%. Disputes arose over the election's validity, with rival candidates claiming it was rigged. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the election "fair" and ruled out a recount. Protests and riots ensued in the streets of Tehran. As many as 1,000 people were arrested and 20 were killed. In August, a mass trial of 100 government critics began. The defendants were denied access to lawyers and contact with family members.
The diplomatic situation between Iran and the West further deteriorated in September 2009, when U.S. President Barack Obama revealed at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York that American, British, and French spies had evidence that Iran built an uranium-enrichment plant near Qum. Iranian officials acknowledged existence of the facility, but maintained it was for peaceful purposes. Then, Iran test fired medium-range missiles capable of hitting Israel and U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf.
Diplomatic cables released in November 2010 by WikiLeaks revealed that many Arab leaders fear Iran's nuclear power and privately persuaded the U.S. to intervene. The cables also indicated that the U.S. believed Iran acquired missiles from North Korea that could strike parts of Western Europe.
Anti-government protests swept through Iran in February and March 2011. Security forces were deployed to suppress the demonstrations with tear gas and clubs. Parliament called for the execution of opposition leaders Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei engaged in a public power struggle in 2011. It began in April when Ahmadinejad fired the chief of the intelligence ministry, only to have the move rescinded by Khamenei.
In September 2011, Ahmadinejad announced that two American hikers who had been imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges would be released. The judiciary said he lacked the authority to issue the order. The hikers were released later in the month.
Iran's nuclear program prompted international concern in November 2011 when the IAEA released a report that "Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device." The report said Iran was developing the technology to trigger a nuclear weapon. President Ahmadinejad denied the allegation, saying the evidence was fabricated by Iran's enemies.
The U.S., Britain, and Canada responded with economic sanctions targeted at Iran's government and commercial banks. Canada and the U.S. also imposed sanctions aimed at Iran's oil, gas, and petrochemical industries. Iran criticized the sanctions. On November 28, several dozen Iranian protesters rushed into the British embassy compound in Tehran, yelling, "Death to England!" They broke embassy windows, burned the British flag, and vandalized offices.
In January 2012, Iran blamed Israel and the United States for the death of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a nuclear scientist. A bomber on a motorcycle killed Roshan in Tehran. In February, Israeli officials accused Iran of being involved in multiple terrorist attacks.
Also in January 2012, the European Union (EU) agreed to impose an embargo on Iranian oil attempting to persuade Iran to halt uranium enrichment and end its nuclear weapon efforts. Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz and announced it was set to begin uranium enrichment at a second facility.
In August 2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that while economic sanctions have hurt Iran, they have not slowed progress on the country's nuclear program. The report found that Iran's nuclear program had progressed even faster than anticipated and brought out differences between Israel and the United States about how to deal with Iran. In September 2012, Netanyahu expressed his disapproval with the Obama administration for not setting a timeline to deal with Iran.
In June 2013, Hassan Rouhani won the presidential election. Reformists supported Rouhani after Mohammad Reza Aref dropped out of the race. Thousands of Iranians took to the streets celebrating Rouhani's victory. He campaigned on a promise to improve relations with the U.S. However, Rouhani said Iran would continue to pursue its nuclear program.
In September, Rouhani released 11 prominent political prisoners, exchanged letters with President Barack Obama, and wished Jews a joyous Rosh Hoshanah. Rouhani addressed the UN General Assembly on September 24 repeating his claim that Iran would never seek nuclear weapons but continue to pursue uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes.
On October 1, 2013, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with President Obama to discuss the situation with Iran. Netanyahu and Obama presented a united front when it came to Iran having nuclear weapons. The next day, Netanyahu gave his annual speech at the UN. He referred to Iranian President Hassan Rowhani as a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and warned the international community not to be fooled by Rowhani's overtures.
On November 24, 2013, Iran reached a deal with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. Iran agreed to halt production of uranium beyond 5%, dilute its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%, not install new centrifuges, and give UN inspectors access to enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordo. In return, sanctions against Iran were eased. Israel and Saudi Arabia expressed outrage about the deal.
On January 22, 2014, in Switzerland, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited Iran to negotiations, but reneged when Iran refused to accept terms of the talks requiring Assad to step down and the formation of a transition government. In February, a second round of talks opened in Geneva, but ended without making any progress.
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