The Chargé in Iran (Merriam) to the Secretary of State

No. 988

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my telegrams No. 4 of January 21, 10 a.m., and No. 5 of February 2, 11 a.m.,7 and to the Department’s telegrams No. 1 of January 25, 3 p.m., No. 2 of January 29, 7 p.m., and No. 3 of January 29, 8 p.m.,7a all of 1937.

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In my telegram No. 4 above-cited, suggesting that the Department might wish to give consideration to the appointment of a Minister at Teheran, I felt it proper to state the possibilities arising from American press comments on the Hart concessions in the most pessimistic terms, feeling that the Department, with such a statement before it of the worst that might be expected would be in a good position to decide whether to cover all the possibilities or to take a more optimistic view and to act according to the pleasanter possibilities which also, undeniably, exist.

A few observations touching the Department’s telegram No. 1 of January 25, 3 p.m., suggest themselves at this point. As regards the statement that there would appear to be no proper relation between the concessions and the appointment of a Minister, it seems to the Legation that so long as these concessions are legally incomplete it is quite unjustified in supporting them or connecting itself with them in any manner. However, once the concessions have been signed, ratified and promulgated, they would appear to constitute a legitimate private American interest on the same footing with our trading, missionary and archaeological interests which we should be justified in protecting in every legitimate way permitted by policy. In this country one cannot blink the fact that all the activities and interests, private and official, of each and every separate foreign country, are inextricably interwoven. This situation arises from the fact that all power is concentrated in the Shah, consequently any factor which affects a private interest in any foreign country is bound to react, through His Majesty, upon the official interest of that country, and vice versa. In this connection it may be said that the American missionaries, who know the country extremely well, would not have been in the least surprised if following the Djalal incident and with the withdrawal of the Iranian representatives from the United States, they in their turn had been requested to depart from Iran. In fact, again, diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran became strained not because of any act of our Government but owing to the American press, a wholly private and unassociated interest. From an American point of view, missionary work is unrelated to diplomatic relations, just as diplomatic relations are unrelated to the press. But in Iran they are all tied more or less tightly in the same knot.

To cut the discussion of this particular point short, it appeared to the Legation that, given the interaction of all sorts of factors within the Shah (as within Iranians generally)—an inescapable fact and condition, however contrary it may be to American methods and traditions—the legitimate interest constituted by the Hart concessions, [Page 723] when in full legal force, would be best protected by the appointment of a Minister. All other American interests would also, of course, be benefited.

The suggestion that this appointment be made promptly, without awaiting the ratification of the concessions, arose from the consideration that this might be delayed until clippings from the American press should begin to arrive in Iran, and not with any view to encouraging ratification, which has been a foregone conclusion, everything being equal.

The Legation does not apprehend bad results from straight news articles relating to Iran in the leading daily newspapers so much as the poor taste and inaccuracies which so frequently get into the background and color with which these items are decorated in the weekly news magazines and Sunday supplements.

The Legation feels that the Department has accurately stated the problem in our relations with Iran as that of the sensitivity of the Shah to anything which by any scope of the imagination could be regarded as derogatory to himself. Indeed, to the best of its knowledge, there is no representative at Teheran of any country where the press can be regarded as free who has not been faced with the same difficulty to some degree. The problem, so far as one can see, is insoluble during the Shah’s life. It cannot be met directly, but only indirectly, by such means as suggest themselves as appropriate from time to time. It seemed to the Legation that the appointment of a Minister would harmonize with this line of action.

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Respectfully yours,

Gordon P. Merriam
  1. Latter not printed.
  2. Nos. 2 and 3 of January 29, not printed.