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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Donald Trump

Photo Illustration by Sean McCabe; baur/Shutterstock.com (US Flag); railway fx/Shutterstock.com (Iran Flag); Frederic Legrand - COMEO/Shutterstock.com (Trump); Iranian Army via AP Images (Missiles); Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS (Rouhani); iStockPhoto/Getty Images (Clouds)

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JS EXPLAINS

Why Everyone’s Talking About Iran

The escalating conflict between the U.S. and Iran has been in the news a lot lately. Here’s what you should know.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

Over the past year, tensions between the United States and the Middle Eastern country of Iran have been heating up. In June, the Iranian military shot down a drone that belonged to the U.S. armed forces. The aircraft, which cost more than $100 million, had been conducting surveillance over a key waterway in the Middle East.

In response, U.S. President Donald Trump approved missile strikes against Iran. But with a reported 10 minutes to spare, he called them off. He said the strikes could have killed 150 people and wouldn’t have been “proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.” 

Then, in July, U.S. military officials announced that a Navy ship had shot down an Iranian drone in the Middle East. The aircraft “was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew,” Trump said.

The recent incidents are just the latest in a long history of mistrust between the U.S. and Iran. What’s behind the hostility—and what could it mean for Americans? Read on to find out.

Over the past year, tensions between the United States and the Middle Eastern country of Iran have been heating up. In June, Iran’s military shot down a drone that belonged to the U.S. armed forces. The aircraft cost more than $100 million. It had been doing surveillance over an important waterway in the Middle East.

U.S. President Donald Trump responded by approving missile strikes against Iran. But with a reported 10 minutes to spare, he called off the strikes. He said they could have killed 150 people, which would not have been “proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”

Then, in July, U.S. military officials made an announcement. They said a Navy ship had shot down an Iranian drone in the Middle East. The Iranian aircraft “was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew,” Trump said.

The recent incidents were just the latest in a long history of mistrust between the U.S. and Iran. What is behind the hostility? What could it mean for Americans? Read on to find out.

1. What sparked the current conflict?

The relationship between the U.S. and Iran has been worsening for months. In April 2019, the Trump administration labeled a part of the Iranian military a terrorist organization.

It was the first time the U.S. has identified part of another country’s armed forces as that type of threat. The move was partly an attempt to pressure Iran to scale back its military operations. Iran responded by declaring all U.S. forces in the Middle East to be terrorists.

Weeks later, Trump sent warships and troops to the Middle East to support the tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers already stationed there. Soon after, a series of explosions damaged six ships off the coast of Iran. (The ships belong to U.S. allies and companies overseas.) Iran said it wasn’t involved, but the U.S. blamed it for the attacks. Then came the downing of the U.S. drone.

The relationship between the U.S. and Iran has been getting worse for months. In April 2019, the Trump administration labeled a part of the Iranian military a terrorist organization.

That was the first time the U.S. had named part of another country’s armed forces as that type of threat. The move was partly an attempt to pressure Iran to decrease the size of its military operations. Iran responded by declaring that all U.S. forces in the Middle East are terrorists.

Weeks later, Trump sent warships and troops to the Middle East. He sent them to support the tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers already stationed there. Soon after, a series of explosions damaged six ships off the coast of Iran. (The ships belong to U.S. allies and companies overseas.) Iran said it was not involved. But the U.S. blamed Iran for the attacks. Then came the downing of the U.S. drone.

©Rouzbeh Fouladi/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

Iranians burned a replica of the American flag last year.

2. What are the roots of the tension?

The U.S. and Iran have been at odds for decades. One reason is that the U.S. has long suspected Iran of developing nuclear weapons—a huge threat to U.S. allies in the region. In 2015, the U.S., along with five other nations and the European Union, reached a deal with Iran. The Middle Eastern country agreed to limit its nuclear program. In exchange, the U.S. and its allies lifted sanctions that had devastated Iran’s economy.

Many experts believed the deal was working. But last year, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement, saying Iran couldn’t be trusted to uphold it. He reimposed sanctions against Iran and later ordered additional economic penalties. Those actions infuriated Iran’s leaders, who insist they had been honoring the deal.

The U.S. and Iran have been at odds for decades. One reason is that the U.S. has long suspected Iran of developing nuclear weapons. Such weapons would be a huge threat to U.S. allies in the region. In 2015, the U.S., five other nations, and the European Union reached a deal with Iran. The Middle Eastern country agreed to limit its nuclear program. In exchange, the U.S. and its allies lifted sanctions that had damaged Iran’s economy.

Many experts believed the deal was working. But last year, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement. He said Iran could not be trusted to uphold it. He put sanctions against Iran back in place. Later, he ordered more economic penalties. Those actions angered Iran’s leaders. They insist they had been honoring the deal.

Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Darion Chanelle Triplett/U.S. Navy via AP Images

Trump recently sent these aircraft carriers to the Middle East as a show of strength.

3. What does all this mean for the U.S.?

Some people worry that the conflict between the U.S. and Iran could escalate into an all-out war. As this issue went to press, international leaders were urging officials from both countries to reduce tensions quickly.

For his part, Trump has insisted that he wants to avoid a military confrontation with Iran that could put American lives at risk. Such a conflict would be extremely unpopular at home. Many experts say that with the U.S. presidential election just a year away, Trump is unlikely to enter a potentially bloody fight in the Middle East that many Americans oppose. 

Some people worry that the conflict between the U.S. and Iran could escalate into an all-out war. As this issue went to press, international leaders were urging officials from both countries to reduce tensions quickly.

For his part, Trump has insisted that he wants to avoid a military clash with Iran. Such a conflict could put American lives at risk. It also would be very unpopular at home. Many experts say that with the U.S. presidential election just a year away, Trump is unlikely to enter a potentially bloody fight in the Middle East that many Americans oppose.

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