History Stories

The history of American diplomacy stretches back to Ben Franklin, the country’s first diplomat, who helped the 13 colonies form official ties with France in 1778, during the Revolutionary War. Other nations that were among the earliest to make a formal diplomatic alliance with America include the Netherlands (1782), Spain (1783), Britain (1785) and Russia (1809). The U.S. launched its official diplomatic relationship with Brazil in 1824, India in 1946 and China in 1979.

America has formal diplomatic ties with most of the world’s nations, but Iran, North Korea and Bhutan aren’t on that list. After establishing an official relationship with Iran in 1883, the U.S. cut ties with it in April 1980, after Iranian students seized the American Embassy in Tehran the previous November and took 52 U.S. citizens hostage. Meanwhile, the situation between America and North Korea, which has been ruled by three generations of the Kim dynasty since the country’s founding in 1948, has never been cozy. As for Bhutan, it’s never had official diplomatic ties to the U.S. but not because there’s any bad blood between the two. Bhutan, a remote, Buddhist nation in the Himalayas that’s known for its gross national happiness system, gets along fine with America but has no formal relations with it or China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

America’s diplomatic relations with various nations have, of course, gone through rocky patches. For example, the U.S. severed ties with Germany during World War I and again in World War II. In 1991, U.S.-Iraq relations hit the skids amidst the Gulf War, but in 2004 (two years after President George W. Bush famously referred to Iraq as part of the “axis of evil”) diplomatic ties were restored. In 2012, America shuttered its embassy in Syria during the civil war there; in 2014 it ordered the Syrian government to suspend operations at its embassy in Washington, although diplomatic relations didn’t officially end. And in 2015, five decades after the U.S. cut ties with Cuba amidst rising tensions with Fidel Castro’s government, the neighboring nations restored formal relations and reopened embassies in each other’s capital cities.

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