Iran's nuclear program is a major security concern for the United States, but the U.S. itself is partly to blame. In fact it gave Iran its first nuclear reactor. It's still active in Tehran today.
Iran signed a deal with the U.S. in 1957. It was part of a plan called Atoms for Peace.
The United States gave reactors, fuel and scientific training to developing countries like Iran. In exchange, the countries agreed to use their new technology only for peaceful, civilian purposes. The program is still criticized today.
Iran then signed the Non Proliferation Treaty, and by the mid-70s, Iran was developing a nuclear power program fast. The shah called for a full-fledged nuclear industry with a budget of $1.3 billion by 1977.
The country struck deals with lots of major powers, including millions in investments from France and West Germany. But then in 1979, the Iranian Revolution put it all on hold. The war with Iraq in 1980 consumed more of Iran's resources.
That’s where things shifted a bit. Western involvement in Iran's nuclear program dwindled. So Iran turned to other powers. In the '80s and '90s the country got crucial technology from Pakistan and uranium from China, and signed several deals with Russia.
By the early 2000s, President Clinton was worried about Russia’s involvement and the possibility of secret nuclear weapon development. The U.S. got proof in 2002. An Iranian council revealed undeclared nuclear facilities working on uranium enrichment.
In 2003, Iran agreed to stop as a way to build confidence. But that didn't happen. Within a year, all signs pointed to Iran stocking up on uranium more than it would need for just an energy program. By 2006, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose harsh economic sanctions on Iran.
Its economy struggled. But decades of tension eased in 2013 when six powers and Iran reached a temporary agreement about the country's nuclear program. Basically, Western countries would loosen economic measures if Iran backed off its nuclear program. Then 20 months of talks led to the landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2015, aka the JCPOA. It was designed to last for 15 years and hammered out the details of the 2013 deal.
President Trump called it a "bad deal" from the beginning and pulled the U.S. out in May.
Iran and other European countries are still on board for now. Though the U.S. might have brought atomic energy into the country decades ago, it was Iran that turned to other powers for help and concealed major nuclear activities. Out of sight, but not an oversight.