Iran in 2021: Timeline

For Iran, 2021 was a tumultuous year that included the election of a new president, chronic inflation, tensions with the West over its controversial nuclear program, two deadly waves of COVID-19 infections, protests over water shortages, and more. The following is timeline of major events. 

Jan. 5: The Treasury Department sanctioned 12 Iranian and four foreign-based companies as well as one Iranian man involved with steel production and sales. “The Trump Administration remains committed to denying revenue flowing to the Iranian regime as it continues to sponsor terrorist groups, support oppressive regimes, and seek weapons of mass destruction,” Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. The action was taken pursuant to Executive Order 13871, issued in May 2019, which prohibited transactions related to Iran’s aluminum, copper, iron and steel sectors. Steel and other metals have historically accounted for some 10 percent of export revenue, the biggest source of revenue after oil. 

Jan. 8: The Treasury Department sanctioned Falih al Fayyadh, Chairman of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Commission (PMC) and former National Security Advisor to the Iraqi Prime Minister, for human rights abuses. Fayyadh headed the PMC when its forces, including militias supported by Iran, allegedly fired live ammunition at Iraqi anti-government protestors who began demonstrating in October 2019. “Iran-aligned PMC forces continue to wage a murderous campaign against political activists in Iraq who are calling for free and fair elections, respect for human rights, and transparent and accountable governance,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Jan. 8: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned all vaccine imports from the United States and Britain. “They’re completely untrustworthy,” he said in a televised speech. “It’s not unlikely they would want to contaminate other nations.” The prohibition would bar Iran from importing foreign vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna. Khamenei said that Iran would obtain vaccines from “other reliable places,” but did not specify from where.

Jan. 13:The United States sanctioned two major foundations, along with their heads and subsidiaries, controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The two bonyads (charitable organizations), Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order and Astan Quds Razavi, have accumulated vast wealth through involvement in many sectors, including construction, agriculture, energy, telecommunications and financial services. “These institutions enable Iran’s elite to sustain a corrupt system of ownership over large parts of Iran’s economy,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. A total of three individuals and 16 entities were designated

Jan. 15: The United States expanded sanctions on Iran’s defense and shipping industries during President Donald Trump’s last full week in office. The administration sanctioned three weapons manufacturers, seven international shipping companies and two Iranian business executives.

The defense industry sanctions punished Iran for transferring conventional arms to its proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. “This military equipment, which includes attack boats, missiles, and combat drones, provides a means for the Iranian regime to perpetrate its global terror campaign,” Secretary of State Pompeo said. The sanctions targeted three branches of Iran’s defense ministry: the Marine Industries Organization (MIO), Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO), and the Iran Aviation Industries Organization (IAIO).

The shipping sanctions targeted Iranian, Chinese and Emirati businesses that did business with Iran’s national maritime shipping company, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL). The companies shipped raw or partially finished steel products to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, the State Department alleged. The administration also sanctioned Mohammad Reza Modarres Khiabani, the CEO of IRISL, and Hamidreza Azimian, the CEO of Mobarakeh Steel Company. 

Jan. 19: The State Department added 15 metals to its list of banned imports to Iran, including seven types of aluminum, six types of steel and two types of zirconium. Secretary of State Pompeo claimed that the metals were “used in connection with Iran’s nuclear, military or ballistic missile programs.” He threatened sanctions against companies that transferred the metals to Iran’s construction sector, which he said was controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). “The IRGC’s construction firm and many of its subsidiaries remain sanctioned by the United Nations because they were directly involved in the clandestine construction of the uranium enrichment site at Fordow,” Pompeo said.

Early February: Iran and North Korea resumed cooperation on long-range missile development, including on a space launch vehicle, according to a U.N. panel that was monitoring sanction on North Korea. The experts, citing a U.N. member state, said that North Korea transferred critical parts to Iran as recently as 2020.  

Feb. 1: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested that the European Union could “choreograph” moves by the United States and Iran to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). ”There can be a mechanism to basically either synchronize it or coordinate what can be done,” he told CNN.

Feb. 9: Iran began inoculating health care workers using Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Health Minister Namaki’s son was the first person injected, a move designed to boost public confidence in the vaccine. Intensive care unit staff at more than 600 hospitals were also vaccinated.

Feb. 18: The Biden administration announced three opening moves to jumpstart diplomacy with Iran. The three moves were accepting an invitation from the European Union to attend a meeting of the P5+1 countries, rescinding the Trump administration invocation of “snapback” sanctions at the United Nations, and lifting travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats in New York.

Feb. 26: The Israeli-owned Helios Ray cargo ship was damaged by two limpet mines in the Gulf of Oman. Israel blamed Iran for the attack.

March 2: The United States sanctioned two Houthi rebel commanders, Mansur al Saadi and Ahmad Ali Ahsan al Hamzi, for orchestrating attacks “impacting Yemeni civilians, bordering nations, and commercial vessels in international waters.” Al Saadi and al Hamzi “command forces that worsening the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea M. Gacki said. 

March 9: The United States designated two IRGC interrogators in the first new sanctions imposed by the Biden administration on Iran. Ali Hemmatian and Masoud Safadri were involved in torturing political prisoners and protesters detained during anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020 sparked by a gas price hike. The sanctions blocked them and their immediate family members from entry into the United States.  

March 10: An Iranian container ship, the Shahr-e Kord, was hit by an explosive object in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean. It caused a small fire but no casualties. Iran blamed Israel.

March 15: The government began mass production of the CovIran Barekat vaccine. Its goal was to initially produce 3 million doses a month and then to scale up to 12 to 15 million doses per month by June, the chairman of Setad said

March 16: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that it had “high confidence” that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei authorized a cyber influence campaign during the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The online operation was intended to “undercut former President Trump's reelection prospects - though without directly promoting his rivals.”

March 25: The LORI, an Israeli-owned cargo ship, was struck by a missile in the Arabian Sea. A senior Israeli defense official claimed that the Revolutionary Guards had fired the missile, which caused minimal damage.

March 27: Iran and China signed a 25-year "strategic partnership" to deepen economic and security ties. The text of the agreement was not published, but a draft released in June 2020 indicated that Beijing would invest billions in exchange for a heavily discounted supply of Iranian oil. "We want China to continue to be a major trading partner to Iran and to have more cooperation in the field of joint ventures," President Hassan Rouhani said

April 2: Three Iranian fast-attack boats and one ship, the Harth 55, approached two U.S. Coast Guard ships, the Monomy and the Wrangell, in international waters in the southern Persian Gulf. The Iranian vessels maneuvered away after three hours of the U.S. forces issuing warnings and conducting defensive maneuvers.

April 7: Iran broke its record for daily infections as new cases reached nearly 21,000. All provincial capitals were categorized as "red zones" with the highest risk of infection. Many had been classified as "blue" or in the lowest risk category during Nowruz, Tasnim News Agency reported. The Health Ministry announced that 85 percent of the country was in a "red" or "orange" zone. 

April 6: An Iranian ship, the Saviz, was damaged by a mine planted on its hull in the Red Sea near Djibouti. The vessel had been floating off the coast of Yemen for several years and was allegedly used as a forward base by the Revolutionary Guards. Israel reportedly conducted the attack in retaliation for previous Iranian strikesaccording to The New York Times.

April 6: In Vienna, Iran and the world's major powers opened talks on returning the United States and Iran to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Two expert working groups were formed: one on the timetable for lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran, the other on reversing Iran's breaches of the nuclear deal. Araghchi said that negotiations were on "the right track," but that it was "too soon to say it has been successful." The logistics were unusual because Iran refused to meet directly with the U.S. delegation. Delegations from Iran and the United States worked out of separate hotels and communicated via European envoys who shuttled messages back and forth.

April 9: The first week of talks in Vienna concluded. No final agreement was reached, but participants agreed to reconvene the following week. The P4+1 "took stock of the work done by experts over the last three days and noted with satisfaction the initial progress made," Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted

April 9: Iran and Saudi Arabia held direct talks five years after severing diplomatic relations. The talks in Baghdad were mediated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi. The Iran delegation was led by Saeed Iravani, deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. The Saudi delegation was led by Khalid al Humaidan, the chief of intelligence. The discussion focused primarily on Yemen, where Riyadh and Tehran have backed opposing sides since the civil war erupted in 2014. The delegations also reportedly discussed the political and financial crisis in Lebanon, where Iran and Saudi Arabia back opposing political blocs.

April 13: The Hyperion Ray, an Israeli-owned cargo ship, was struck by a missile or an unmanned drone near the Fujairah port in the United Arab Emirates. There were no casualties, and the ship continued on its route. The ship was attacked two days after Israel allegedly sabotaged the Natanz nuclear facility. Foreign Minister Zarif had vowed “revenge” on Israel.

April 15: Indirect talks over getting the United State and Iran back into compliance with the JCPOA resumed in Vienna. In Tehran, President Rouhani reiterated that Iran was not seeking a nuclear weapon. “We can enrich 90 percent today, but we stand by our word and we are not looking for an atomic bomb,” he said during a cabinet meeting. “It is YOU who made and stockpiled the atomic bomb and are still making bombs. This is what YOU do. Do not accuse us of making bombs, Iran's activities are completely peaceful.”

April 20: The Joint Commission created a third expert group "to start looking into the possible sequencing of respective measures" by the United States and Iran to reenter the JCPOA. Diplomatic talks in Vienna paused to give delegations time to consult with their capitals. Parties would resume discussions the following week. "There has been some progress, but there remains a long road ahead," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. "And I think it’s fair to say that we have more road ahead of us than we do in the rearview mirror."

April 25: Iran International TV, a Persian-language station based in London, aired three hours of a leaked interview with Foreign Minister Zarif that triggered a political firestorm. Zarif candidly said that the IRGC dominated foreign policy, had withheld information about military operations, and had sidelined the foreign ministry in major decisions. The three-hour audio was an excerpt from a seven-hour interview conducted as part of an oral history project on the Rouhani administration. The interviews with Zarif and other officials were not intended for publication before Rouhani’s second and last term ended in August 2021.

April 26: The USS Firebolt, a patrol ship, fired warning shots after three IRGC fast-attack boats came within 68 yards of it and the Baranoff, a Coast Guard patrol boat. The incident occurred in international waters of the Persian Gulf. U.S. Navy vessels had not fired a warning shot on Iranian ships since July 2017.

April 27: The government began the second phase of its vaccination campaign. Iranians over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions were eligible to receive the vaccine. Iran detected three cases of the South African variant of the coronavirus, the Health Ministry reported.

April 27: Talks resumed in Vienna for the third round. 

May 1: The Joint Commission wrapped up the third week of Vienna talks. "Moderate advances but with more detail comes more complexity," E.U. Coordinator Mora tweeted. "We will reconvene next week to continue." Ambassador Ulyanov said that participants aimed to complete talks to restore the JCPOA in three weeks. 

May 6: Talks resumed in Vienna for the fourth round.

May 10: The Maui, a Coast Guard cutter, fired 30 warning shots after 13 IRGC Navy fast boats came within 150 yards of six U.S. military vessels, which were escorting the guided-missile submarine Georgia. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that the number of Iranian boats involved was notably higher than in recent encounters. 

May 11: Iran launched mass production of the domestically-produced CovIran Barekat vaccine. The Health Ministry received 300,000 doses from a factory constructed by Setad.

May 10 – 20: Iranian leaders offered unequivocal support after Palestinian militants in Gaza fired rockets at Israeli cities, and Israel responded with airstrikes on May 10. Khamenei called on Palestinians to “confront the enemy” and “stand strong” against Israel. “One can only talk with the language of strength with these criminals,” he said in a video message on May 11. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif released a video in Arabic on May 11 condemning Israel as “racist” and calling for a “popular referendum” to determine the future of the Holy Land.   

May 19: The Joint Commission met in Vienna and concluded the fourth round of talks. "We’ve made good progress. An agreement is shaping up," Mora tweeted after the meeting. "Significant" progress was reached and an agreement was "within reach," according to Ambassador Ulyanov. "Hopefully the 5th round will be final," he tweeted.

May 20: The Biden administration sanctioned two Houthi military commanders leading the rebel offensive on Yemen’s Marib province. The Treasury sanctioned Muhammad Abd al Karim al Ghamari, the Head of the General Staff of the Houthi military. The State Department designated Yusuf al Madani, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. “We are promoting accountability for Houthi actions that perpetuate conflict in Yemen and undermine peace efforts,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “The Houthis benefit from generous military support from the Iranian government to wage attacks against civilian population centers and commercial shipping infrastructure in Yemen.” 

May 25: The Guardian Council approved seven candidates to run for president. A total of 592 candidates, 552 men and 40 women, had registered to run. The Guardian Council barred some 98 percent of hopefuls, including former President Ahmadinejad, former Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri. The seven approved candidates included five conservatives, one centrist and one reformist. The head of the national judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, was the most prominent conservative candidate.

May 25: Talks resumed in Vienna for the fifth round. 

June 12: The fifth round of talks in Vienna ended. Differences between the parties were "not insolvable," according to Iran's deputy foreign minister. "I do not think there will be much delay between today's meeting and the next round of talks," Araghchi said. "Like in the previous rounds, we will probably return to Vienna after consulting with our capitals."

June 12: Talks resumed in Vienna for the sixth round.

June 10: The United States lifted sanctions on three former Iranian officials and two companies previously involved in buying, selling, or transporting Iranian petrochemical products. One company was based in Hong Kong, and the other was based in mainland China. “These actions demonstrate our commitment to lifting sanctions in the event of a change in status or behavior by sanctioned persons,” Secretary of State Blinken said. The Treasury clarified that the three men were no longer working for entities tied to Iran’s government. The delisting was announced two days ahead of the sixth round of talks on bringing Iran and the United States back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. 

June 18-19: Iran held its presidential election on June 18. Three candidates had dropped out on June 16, which left four in the race. On June 19, the Interior Ministry announced that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi won the election with 62 percent of the votes. But the turnout, just 48.8 percent, was the lowest for a presidential election in the history of the Islamic Republic. Only 28.9 million Iranians — out of the more than 59 million eligible voters — participated. Activists had called for a boycott. Compared to previous elections, the low turnout reflected widespread apathy about both the candidates and the future of the revolution.

June 20: The sixth round of talks in Vienna concluded. Delegations returned to their respective capitals for consultations.  

June 21: President-elect Ebrahim Raisi warned that his administration would take a harder stand on diplomacy with the international community. “The world, particularly the West, should realize that the situation in Iran has changed through the people’s vote,” Raisi told reporters on June 21. He specifically rejected negotiations to limit either Iran’s regional role or its ambitious missile program, although he expressed support for the 2015 nuclear deal brokered with the world’s six major powers. 

June 22: The United States seized three dozen web addresses affiliated with Iran and its proxies, including English-language Press TV. Thirty-three websites operated by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) conducted "disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations," the Justice Department said in a statement. Three others were used by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi Shiite militia group backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

June 27: The United States conducted airstrikes against three targets operated by two Iraqi militias—Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada—that are trained, armed, funded and sometimes directed by Iran. F-15 and F-16 fighters targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq. The U.S. strikes were in response to a string of at least six drone attacks attributed to Iraqi militias from April to June 2021.

July 3: The CSAV Tyndall, a formerly Israeli-owned cargo ship, was struck by either a missile or an unmanned drone in the Indian Ocean. There were no casualties, but the ship suffered minor damage. Israeli security officials believed that Iran was responsible for the attack, Haaretz reported.

July 7: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hosted peace talks with Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban’s chief negotiator, and former Vice President Younus Qanooni representing the Kabul government. Zarif urged them to “take difficult decisions today for the future of their country.” Iran was “ready to assist the dialogue” and to “resolve the current conflicts in the country” following the “failure of the U.S. in Afghanistan,” he said. Zarif subsequently tweeted that the meeting had been “cordial” and promised Iran would stand with Afghans on their road to peace.

July 9-10: On July 9, hackers caused chaos at Iranian train stations nationwide by posting fake messages about cancellations on display boards. The messages urged passengers to call 64411, the number for a hotline run by the Supreme Leader’s office. The next day, websites tied to the Ministry of Roads and Urbanization reportedly went down. Iran blamed Israel and the United States.

July 13: Iran confirmed that it was negotiating a prisoner exchange with the United States. "‌Because of its humanitarian aims, Iran is ready to exchange all American political prisoners in exchange for the release of all Iranian prisoners who have been detained around the world at the behest of America," government spokesperson Ali Rabiei said.

July 15: Facebook took down nearly 200 fake accounts used by Iranian hackers to target U.S., British and European military and defense personnel. The hackers, known as Tortoiseshell, sought to infect victims’ computers with malware and steal their login information. The malware used by the hackers was developed by Mahak Rayan Afraz (MRA), a company in Tehran with ties to the IRGC, according to Facebook’s cybersecurity team

July 15: Protests broke out in southwestern Khuzestan province on July 15 over water shortages and continued for weeks. Security forces reportedly killed at least eight protestors and bystanders in the crackdown. People also demonstrated in Tehran and several other cities in solidarity with the province, which is home to Iran’s Arab minority.

July 17: Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that Iran would not return to Vienna for a seventh round of talks until after Raisi’s inauguration. “We’re in a transition period as a democratic transfer of power is underway in our capital,” he tweeted. State Department spokesman Price condemned the delay as “outrageous.” 

July 20: Iran reached an all-time high of new COVID-19 infections with 27,444 new cases, the health ministry reported. The previous peak was 25,582 on April 14. New deaths were at 250, still lower than the average death rate during the third and fourth waves of the pandemic in fall 2020 and spring 2021 respectively.  

July 26: Five documents allegedly outlining Iran's research on offensive cyber operations were leaked to Britain’s Sky News. The reports were reportedly compiled by Intelligence Team 13, a group within the Revolutionary Guard's cyber unit, Shahid Kaveh. They detailed how Iran planned to hack critical infrastructure, including water filtration, fuel supply systems and maritime communications. One report examined vulnerabilities in "smart" building management systems in the United States, France and Germany.  

July 29: The Mercer Street—an oil tanker owned by a Japanese company but was managed by Zodiac Maritime, which is headed by an Israeli shipping magnate—was attacked off the coast of Oman. Israeli officials told The New York Times that multiple Iranian drones were involved in the attack, which killed one British national and one Romanian national. 

July 30: In one of his last acts as foreign minister, Zarif published a 204-page book titled “Documenting Six Years of Western (Non-) Implementation of the ‘Iran Nuclear Deal.’” The book included his last letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, dated July 20, in which he accused the United States and its “European accomplices” of failing to comply with the deal. Zarif claimed that the Britain, France, Germany and the United States were using economic pressure and blackmail to renegotiate provisions of the agreement, including the timetable for restrictions on Iran to expire.   

Aug. 1: Outgoing President Rouhani apologized to Iranians for their suffering during his eight years in office. “If we had any shortcoming and flaws, we ask people’s forgiveness and mercy,” he said during his last cabinet meeting. Rouhani said that his administration would have been more successful if President Donald Trump had not withdrawn from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed economic sanctions on Iran in 2018. Rouhani also cited the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and a prolonged drought as key obstacles. Rouhani admitted that he “did not tell part of the truth” to the public for the sake of preserving national unity. But he did not elaborate.

August: Iran began shipping badly needed fuel to Lebanon through Hezbollah, the Lebanese political movement and militia. The move demonstrated Tehran’s unwavering support for the group and defiance of U.S. sanctions. Hezbollah used the shipments to bolster its image amid Lebanon’s economic crisis. The first Hezbollah-commissioned Iranian tanker arrived at the Syrian port of Baniyas on September 12. The fuel was transferred to tanker trucks for delivery to Lebanon. 

Aug. 5: Former judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi took the oath of office as Iran’s eighth president in a ceremony before parliament, senior officials and foreign dignitaries. On foreign policy, the new president pledged to support “any diplomatic plan” to lift U.S. sanctions which have battered Iran’s economy since 2018. He vowed that Iran’s controversial nuclear program was “peaceful.” At the same time, Raisi said, “All the parameters of national power will be strengthened, adding that “the Islamic Republic of Iran’s power in the region creates security.” On domestic policy, he pledged to stabilize the economy, address people’s basic needs, fight corruption and to better manage water and gas resources.

Aug. 6: U.S. Central Command released the findings of its investigation into the Mercer Street drone attack and published photos of debris recovered from the tanker. Forensic analysis confirmed that the drone components were identical to Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and that it was loaded with explosives.

Aug. 13: The U.S. Treasury sanctioned an oil smuggling network for supporting the Qods Force, the external operations branch of the IRGC. The Qods Force “has been using revenue from Iranian petroleum sales to fund its malign activities,” Secretary of State Blinken said. An Omani oil broker used several companies, including one based in Romania and one registered in Liberia, to sell Iranian oil abroad. The Qods Force was sanctioned in 2007 for supporting terrorist groups across the Middle East.  

August 14: Iran imposed a six day lockdown of the entire country until August 21. The lockdown applied to "all bazaars, markets and public offices, as well as movie theaters, gyms and restaurants in all Iranian cities," the Associated Press reported. The government also banned all road travel until August 27, except for vehicles delivering essential goods or medical services.

Aug. 16: Iran welcomed the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan while it also scrambled to deal with the sudden influx of thousands of refugees along the 572-mile border. “America’s military defeat and its withdrawal must become an opportunity to restore life, security, and durable peace in Afghanistan. Iran backs efforts to restore stability in Afghanistan and, as a neighboring and brother nation, Iran invites all groups in Afghanistan to reach a national agreement,” President Raisi said. 

Aug. 19: Britain, France and Germany condemned Iran for producing uranium metal enriched up to 20 percent and for increasing its production capacity of uranium enriched up to 60 percent. “Both are key steps in the development of a nuclear weapon and Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure,” the three powers said in a joint statement. “Iran must halt all activities in violation of the JCPoA without delay. We urge Iran to return to the negotiations in Vienna as soon as possible with a view to bringing them to a swift, successful conclusion.”

Sept. 3: The Treasury Department sanctioned four Iranian intelligence operatives who plotted to abduct an Iranian-American activist. “Iran’s attempt to kidnap a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil because she used her freedom of speech to criticize the Iranian government is unacceptable and an egregious violation of fundamental international norms,” Secretary of State Blinken said. He added that the plan was part of a broader effort to silence Iranian dissidents in Britain, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.  

Sept. 14: Iran’s new foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, appointed Ali Bagheri (also known as Ali Bagheri Kani) as deputy foreign minister for political affairs. Bagheri, a career diplomat with a background in economics, replaced Abbas Araghchi, the British-educated diplomat who helped negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal and led the Iranian team during the first six rounds of renewed diplomacy in 2021. Bagheri was a vocal critic of the JCPOA.

Sept. 17: The Treasury Department sanctioned facilitators and front companies in the Middle East and Far East that helped fund Hezbollah and the IRGC’s elite Qods Force. It designated 11 individuals in China, Kuwait, and Lebanon, as well as eight entities in China and Hong Kong. The networks collectively laundered tens of millions of dollars by trading in gold and electronics, exploiting regional financial systems and using currency exchange operations.  

Sept. 21: President Raisi expressed support for diplomatic negotiations to restore full U.S. and Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. “We want nothing more than what is rightfully ours. We demand the implementation of international rules,” he said during his debut address to the United Nations. “All parties must stay true to the nuclear deal and the U.N. Resolution in practice.”

In his pre-recorded speech, the hardline cleric repeatedly condemned the United States for imposing economic sanctions on Iran. “The Islamic Republic considers the useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive (U.S.) sanctions,” he said.

Sept. 25: Iran kicked off a new school year with relaxed restrictions on in-person learning for some 15 million students. The public school system planned a gradual reopening that combined distance learning and in-person instruction, especially for larger schools.

Early October: In his first public speech after 10 years under house arrest, opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi urged reforms to eliminate the “flaws and shortcomings” in the Islamic Republic. Karroubi, a former speaker of parliament who ran for the presidency in 2009, was allowed to give a brief speech to a small group of reformists in an unusual break from his isolation by the government. Karroubi and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi have been under house arrest since 2011 for their roles in the opposition Green Movement.

Oct. 2: Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian said that he had urged the United States to release at least $10 billion of Iran’s frozen assets as a goodwill gesture. “The Americans tried to contact us through different channels in New York (at the U.N. General Assembly in September), and I told the mediators if America's intentions are serious then a serious indication was needed,” Amir-Abdollahian explained in a televised interview.

Oct. 8: The Treasury Department delisted Mammut Industries and its subsidiary, Mammut Diesel, which had been designated in 2020 for involvement in Iran’s missile program. The Treasury Department clarified that the delisting did not reflect a change in policy. “They have nothing to do with JCPOA negotiation efforts. The United States will continue to counter Iran's destabilizing activities, including through implementation of our sanctions,” a representative said. The delisting appeared to follow legal proceedings.

October 20: The U.S. base at al Tanf in southern Syria was hit by drones and rockets in a “deliberate and coordinated attack,” Central Command announced. Iran appeared to be responsible for the attack, which included up to five drones carrying explosives, U.S. officials told The Associated Press. The drones were Iranian but were launched from within Syria, officials told CBS News.

Oct. 26: A cyberattack knocked out the system that allows Iranians to use government-issued cards to purchase fuel at a subsidized rate. The outage impacted all 4,300 gas stations in Iran. Consumers either had to pay the regular price, more than double the subsidized rate, or wait for stations to reconnect to the central distribution system. Digital billboards in Tehran and Isfahan were also compromised. Some displayed the message, “Khamenei! Where is our gasoline?” Iran blamed Israel and the United States.

Oct. 27: Deputy Foreign Minister Bagheri, Iran’s lead negotiator, announced a return to nuclear talks with the world’s six major powers by the end of November. 

Oct. 30: President Joe Biden and the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said that the 2015 nuclear deal could be restored quickly if Iran changes course. “We call upon President [Ebrahim] Raisi to seize this opportunity and return to a good faith effort to conclude our negotiations as a matter of urgency. That is the only sure way to avoid a dangerous escalation, which is not in any country’s interest” President Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, President Emmanuel Macron, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome.

Oct. 29: The United States sanctioned four men and two companies for supporting Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) programs run by the IRGC and its external operations arms, the Qods Force. “Iran’s proliferation of UAVs across the region threatens international peace and stability. Iran and its proxy militants have used UAVs to attack U.S. forces, our partners, and international shipping,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said. “Treasury will continue to hold Iran accountable for its irresponsible and violent acts.” 

Nov. 7-9: Iran tested a wide variety of weapons, including cruise missiles, torpedoes and suicide drones, during an annual war game. The Zolfaghar-1400 exercise was held around four key waterways – the Strait of Hormuz, the Sea of Oman, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean – in an area totaling more than 386,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers). Iran’s conventional navy, army, air force and air defense force participated in the war game, although the IRGC did not.

Nov. 8: Farmers started a sit-in on the dry Zayanderoud riverbed in Isfahan city to protest water shortages. Thousands of residents joined the peaceful demonstrations. The authorities appeared to tolerate the sit-in, which was covered by state media, until November 25, when security forces broke up the camp.

Nov. 8: Tehran outlined three key demands ahead of the resumption of talks. Iran expects the United States to “recognize its fault in ditching” the 2015 deal, lift all U.S. sanctions imposed after the withdrawal in one go, and guarantee that no other U.S. administration will renege on the agreement, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said.  

Nov. 10: An Iranian naval helicopter circled dangerously close to the USS Essex in the Gulf of Oman. The Essex was able to continue its operations without incident.

Nov. 18: The United States sanctioned six Iranian men and one entity for attempting to interfere with the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Sectary of State Antony Blinken said that the move represents “the collective efforts of the Department of the Treasury, the Department of State, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” The U.S. government “took decisive and disruptive action against those seeking to interfere with the sanctity of our elections,” he added.  

Nov. 29: Talks resumed in Vienna for the seventh round.

Dec. 3: The delegations in Vienna decided to return to their capitals for consultations. Iran demanded that the United States first lift sanctions imposed by the Trump administration and present guarantees that they will not be reimposed in the future before it would roll back its breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal. The Biden administration has committed to a mutual return to full compliance – at the same time, and without long-term U.S. guarantees – with the deal. 

U.S. and European diplomats expressed frustration and concern that Iran backtracked on its earlier proposals. They said that Iran was offering to do less on rolling back its nuclear program while asking for more concessions on sanctions relief.

Dec. 5: In an interview marking 100 days in office, President Raisi announced that more than 100 million doses of vaccine had been injected. He said that his government's vaccine campaign enabled more than 100,000 businesses to reopen.  

Dec. 7: The Treasury Department sanctioned eight Iranian officials as well as the Law Enforcement Forces Special Units, Counter-Terror Special Forces, Isfahan Central Prison, and Zahedan Prison for human rights abuses. Most were involved in the harsh crackdown on protests in November 2019 sparked by a gas price hike. The various units “used excessive and lethal force, firing upon unarmed protestors, including women and children, with automatic weapons,” according to the Treasury Department.

Dec. 9: The seventh round of talks resumed in Vienna. But Iran stuck to its position. British, French and German diplomats warned that the JCPOA could “soon become an empty shell,” given Iran’s nuclear advances.