Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray)
I went to see the Iranian Chargé d’Affaires on Sunday morning, March 15, to discuss the message which he left with the Under Secretary on March 14 in which the Iranian Government threatened that it will “revise their political relations with the United States” unless this Government takes immediate steps, “even making an exception in this case,” to cause the New York Daily Mirror to retract the statement made in its issue of February 8, 1936 to the effect that the Shah “was formerly employed in the stables of the British Legation in Teheran.”
In reply to my inquiry of Mr. Ghods as to his explanation for this extraordinary communication, he reiterated the old story about the Shah’s extreme sensitiveness to foreign criticism and said he felt sure that the Iranian Foreign Minister who signed the telegram was carrying out the exact instructions of the Shah. He confirmed my impression that the Shah would have little hesitation in going through with his threat unless something could be done at this end to appease the Shah’s wrath. He furthermore confirmed a suspicion I had had that the reception scheduled for last Saturday evening at the Iranian Legation in honor of the Shah’s birthday had been called off by specific order of His Majesty and that the motivation for this action was undoubtedly the story in the New York Daily Mirror.
Mr. Ghods then recounted his conversation with the Under Secretary, which he described as “extremely helpful.” He said he had immediately wired his Government and pointed out that Mr. Phillips, in view of his great friendliness to Iran, did not wish to consider that an unfriendly communication had been delivered to him; that Mr. Phillips [Page 352] had, however, assured him that he would examine carefully into the situation and if it were possible under American law he would see to it that punishment was meted out for the offending article. In other words, Mr. Ghods was very happy that Mr. Phillips had not turned him down at once, since a communication in that sense to his Government would, he felt, have resulted in immediate and drastic action in Teheran. He said he intended to call at the Department the following day, when he hoped to receive further word as to the action which the Department was prepared to take under the circumstances.
I pointed out to Mr. Ghods the unusual character of his Government’s demands and emphasized again to him that the freedom of the press in this country is not merely an empty phrase but is a very actual reality. He said he realized this fully but that unfortunately the Shah of Iran did not and was unwilling to accept any such excuses where criticism of his person was concerned. Mr. Ghods told me that he had written twice to the Editor of the New York Daily Mirror requesting him to correct the false statement but that his requests had been ignored. He therefore felt that he had no other alternative than to appeal to the Department for help.
I questioned Mr. Ghods closely as to whether, in the event the Department, as an entirely exceptional measure, endeavored to bring about a retraction of the offensive statement, the Iranian Government would consider such action as a precedent and would consider itself justified in demanding that we follow the same procedure in all future instances where something unpleasant or untrue might be said regarding the Shah. The Chargé said he thought the present case could be handled in such a manner that his Government would be given to understand that a precedent was not being established and that our action in this instance was entirely exceptional and a gesture of good-will to the Shah. I emphasized to Mr. Ghods the absolute necessity of making this point clear to his Government since any misunderstanding in the matter could only create further difficulties.
I asked the Chargé whether he thought it desirable to bring our Legation in Teheran into the picture in any manner. He said he thought it would be better to leave the matter for the time being entirely in his hands since everything depended on the exact wording of any communications delivered to the Iranian Government on this subject. I think his suggestion is a wise one, everything considered.
After discussing this question with Mr. McDermott8 yesterday morning, it was decided that any direct communication between the Department and the Editor of the New York Daily Mirror would be [Page 353] ill-advised. It was suggested that I endeavor to get in communication with Mr. James T. Williams, personal representative of Mr. Hearst in Washington, and discuss the situation with him in complete confidence. I explained the matter fully and in confidence to Mr. Williams this morning, who seemed to appreciate fully the difficulty in which the Department is placed and, while pointing out that he had no authority whatsoever over the Editor of the New York Daily Mirror, said he would be glad to communicate directly by long distance telephone with Mr. Hearst and put the matter up to him. He reminded me that no assurances could be given that the Editor of the Mirror could be brought to take the action desired by the Iranian Government but assured me that he (Mr. Williams) would do his best.
There the matter stands for the time being. Mr. Williams is coming to see me this afternoon to discuss further phases of the matter before he takes it up with Mr. Hearst.
- Michael J. McDermott, Chief of the Division of Current Information.↩