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A Timeline Of How We Got To An Iran Nuclear Deal

It's been 10 years of negotiations and an even longer period of distrust between the two sides.

Posted on July 14, 2015, at 2:48 a.m. ET

July 14, 2015: Iran and the United States, along with other world powers, agree to a deal that will place limits on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Carlos Barria / AP

That's right now. But let's go way back and see just how we got to this point.

1945: After World War II, the United States and Iran's shah, or "king," become very close. The United Kingdom, which has had a presence in the region for decades, operates most of Iran's oil wells.

The fact that Iran could be seen as a potential buffer against the Soviet Union helps the relationship. But the rise of nationalism over the years leads to Iran nationalizing its oil fields in 1951, kicking out the British and angering the United States.

1953: The government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh is overthrown in a coup — one fomented by the CIA and British intelligence to allow the resumption of business in the country for foreign oil companies.

Anonymous / AP

The coup solidifies the power of the Shah of Iran, whose repressive tactics — including jailing and torturing dissenters of both a secular and religious background — would alienate the Iranian people over time. The CIA only recently fully acknowledged its role in Mossadegh's overthrow.

1957: Iran begins to set up a nuclear energy infrastructure under the auspices of the "Atoms for Peace" program, a U.S.-promoted plan to spread the use of nuclear power.

Anonymous / AP

1968: Iran signs onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a binding document that has signatories — aside from the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France — pledge to only use nuclear technology for civilian purposes.

1979: After months of demonstrations, the shah flees Iran in January. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei returns from exile to lead and direct the revolution, declaring Iran an Islamic State.

Agence France Presse / AFP
AFP / Getty

The deposed shah later seeks refuge on medical grounds in the United States, which Washington reluctantly grants. Students in turn scale the walls of the U.S. Embassy, taking the Americans there hostage. The standoff lasts for more than 400 days, before the hostages are released to America.

Late 1980s: A.Q. Khan, the scientist at the heart of the Pakistani effort to create a nuclear weapon, sells designs and nuclear know-how to several countries, including North Korea, Libya, and Iran.

Farooq Naaem / AFP / Getty Images

Just how much information Khan provided to each of his client states varies from country to country, from information on uranium enrichment and designs for centrifuges — used to separate uranium into more concentrated amounts — and "components" that could be used in a weapon to full warhead designs. Iran admits that it met with Khan's network at least once, but denies that it purchased any information regarding nuclear weaponry.

2002: Iranian dissidents — part of the MEK, a group until recently labeled as terrorists by the United States — for the first time publicly reveal details of Iranian nuclear sites near the cities of Natanz and Arak.

Associated Press

The information provided is later corroborated using commercial satellites. The revelation prompts the Iranian government to insist that it is still adhering to the NPT, has been keeping the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the loop, and not producing nuclear weapons.

The United States is less than convinced, accusing Iran of clandestinely running a nuclear weapons program.

2003: The United Kingdom, Germany, and France begin negotiations with Iran over several issues, including its nuclear program. Several proposals to end the standoff are made and rejected in turn by each side over the course of two years.

Vahid Salemi / AP

2006: The IAEA determines that Iran has not been forthcoming about its nuclear work and refers the matter to the United Nations Security Council, the body within the UN that can set down legally binding sanctions and authorize the use of force.

Dean Calma / Getty Images

The Europeans are soon joined by China, Russia, and the United States, forming the group often called the P5+1. Aside from Germany, the negotiating powers have permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

The first resolution against Iran passes that July, placing an embargo on states exporting materials to Iran that could be used for its nuclear program. A second resolution passes in December, hardening the embargo and placing financial and travel sanctions against several individuals tied to Iran's nuclear work.

2007: The U.S. director of national intelligence releases a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that shows that the intelligence community believes that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program as of 2003.


That determination doesn't let Iran off the hook, however: The fact that it still is judged to have been attempting to produce nuclear weapons and had yet to fully answer IAEA questions about its programs meant that the sanctions against the country would continue.

2008: The Bush administration authorizes "Operation: Olympic Games." The goal: to insert a piece of malware into the Iranian nuclear program's computer systems that will cause centrifuges to spin out of control and become damaged.

Ebrahim Norouzi / ASSOCIATED PRESS

The operation is a success, causing damage to the Iranian systems, though the damaged equipment is quickly replaced. The operation continues — and is accelerated — under the Obama administration, even after the public becomes aware of it through the accidental escape of a piece of the program, known as "Stuxnet," into the wider internet in 2011.

2009: The United States, France, and United Kingdom reveal the existence of a new Iranian facility. Construction on the Fordo enrichment center, near Qom, began in secret around 2006, they allege, before turning over evidence to the IAEA.

Charles Dharapak / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Iran admits that it has begun work on the site, which is carved into a mountain, that greatly expands the number of centrifuges Iran can run at once and thus its total enrichment capacity. Iran refuses an IAEA demand that it freeze work on the site.

At this point, Iran is still enriching uranium up to 20% — below the 90% enrichment needed to be usable in a nuclear weapon, but still a relatively short jump away technologically speaking.

2012: The European Union institutes a ban on Iranian crude oil and petroleum exports. The move is the harshest multilateral blow to Tehran's economic prospects put into place since the standoff began.


The United States had been steadily adding unilateral sanctions against Iran during the crisis as well, punishing banks and companies who conducted business with Iran by cutting them off from the U.S. financial system. More sanctions had also been placed on Iran at the UN — six resolutions will be passed condemning Iran in total as of 2010. The combined economic pressure at one point sends Iran's currency tumbling, and leaves many of the elites within the country dissatisfied.

June 2013: Hassan Rouhani wins election as president of Iran. Described as a moderate, Rouhani ran — and was allowed to run by the Iranian establishment — on a platform of dialogue with the West over Iran's nuclear program.

Ebrahim Noroozi / AP

Rouhani replaces Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, whose confrontational tactics drew scorn from the United States and other countries, particularly for his denial of the Holocaust.

The IAEA meanwhile continues to have concerns over Iran's nuclear program that Tehran has left unaddressed, including the possible paving over of evidence at a military site at Parchin and whether the heavy-water reactor being built at a site at Arak would be able to produce plutonium — which is easier to construct a nuclear bomb out of than uranium.

September 2013: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif on the sidelines of the United Nations' annual General Assembly meeting. Days later, President Obama speaks with Rouhani via phone.

Jason Decrow / AP
White House

The interactions are the highest level dialogue between Iranian and American officials since the Iranian Revolution. Kerry, following his meeting, announced an acceleration in negotiations with Iran over its program.

November 2013: After meeting in Geneva, the P5+1 and Iran announce what they dubbed the "Joint Plan of Agreement (JPOA)," a short-term agreement to the nuclear standoff that would allow breathing room for a final deal.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

The deal agrees to provide “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible” relief from sanctions to Iran. In turn, Iran agrees to suspend the enrichment of uranium to 20%, convert its existing stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium into a form that can't be enriched further, and open itself up to more IAEA inspections.

Despite worries from opponents of the deal in Washington and posturing in Tehran, the IAEA verifies Iranian compliance throughout the initial six-month period the JPOA covers and the built-in six-month extension. An inability to finalize a deal after a year led to another extending of the JPOA and the negotiations until June 30.

April 2015: With the deadline approaching, the negotiating countries and Iran state that they'd agreed on a set of "parameters" for a final deal, and would immediately begin writing a binding final agreement.

Brendan Smialowski / ASSOCIATED PRESS

While some matters are clear to both sides, such as the conversion of Fordo into a research facility, discrepancies between the text of the agreement in English and Farsi quickly arise, leaving both sides wary. Among the most difficult issues is just how quickly Iran will receive sanctions relief after a final deal.

July 14, 2015: The P5+1 announce that a deal has finally been finalized.

Rick Wilking / Getty Images

Though a deal had been finalized, it was still not yet set in stone. A Congressional attempt to declare its disapproval was blocked in the Senate last September.

Jan. 16, 2016: The IAEA officially determines that Iran has been compliant with the deal, shipping 98% of its nuclear material out of the country. As a result, the P5+1 begin lifting sanctions put into place on Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Kevin Lamarque / AP

The news that "Implementation Day" had come was released just hours after the U.S. and Iran announced that they had agreed to a prisoner swap. The exchange freed four U.S. citizens who had been held in Iranian custody for seven Iranian citizens, six of whom also held dual citizenship, seeing charges against them for violating sanctions dropped.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.