The current crisis between the US and Iran is the most severe since the Iranian 1979 revolution and the attendant establishment of the Islamic Republic. The revolution ended the close relations that had existed between the two countries up to that point. The relationship between them has never recovered.
It should be noted that even the Shah had a desire to turn Iran into a nuclear power. He had a grandiose plan in mind that involved both power reactors and a nuclear weapons development effort. The military aspect of the nuclear program was thwarted by the US. Moreover, when the ayatollahs came to power, the nuclear program was cut off entirely, because Ayatollah Khomeini considered nuclear technology to be “devilish.”
But during the 1980-88 war with Iraq, when it became clear that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons, the Iranian regime changed its mind, concluding that nuclear weapons development was an unavoidable necessity. Within a few years, by which point the regime had reaffirmed its determination to turn Iran into a regional superpower and to export the Islamic revolution throughout the world, the effort to develop nuclear weapons had been fully legitimized by the ayatollahs, and became Tehran’s flagship project.
A significant shift in US policy toward Iran took place during the Barack Obama presidency, which, like Jimmy Carter’s, had a utopian perception of the Middle East. According to his advisor Ben Rhodes, Obama was already aspiring to improve relations with Iran at the start of his presidency in 2009, but did not take practical steps toward that end until his second term. John Kerry, who was a senator at the time, was sent to Oman to meet with Iranian representatives. He carried a letter in which Obama promised that he was ready to recognize Iran’s uranium enrichment project as legitimate. This contradicts Obama’s later claim that his willingness to improve relations with Tehran began after Hassan Rouhani, who was considered relatively moderate, was elected president of Iran.