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

No. 1023

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Legation’s despatch No. 1003 of February 26, 1937, with respect to the delivery of second-class mail matter in Iran.

The general prohibition against delivery lasted for about two weeks only. At the end of that time publications were again received from all countries but the United States. The situation thus reverted to the pre-French crisis status with the exception that while American publications which had been mailed out from various European and Near Eastern countries were delivered prior to the French trouble, after it they were no longer delivered. Apparently the Imperial Police had discovered this method of evading the restriction. As a consequence, the Legation has not been receiving Departmental and other [Page 730] second-class mail matter forwarded by our Despatch Agent in London since the early part of January.

In this treatment of French mail and British mail, as contrasted with the treatment accorded American mail, there is manifest discrimination. By any impartial standard it seems obvious that the American press during the past year has given no more cause for complaint than the French or the British press. The American press has produced nothing, for example, to compare, in general offensiveness, with Innocence and Design, a book which appeared under a London imprint, and with which the Department is acquainted.

Under the circumstances, it seemed that representations to the Foreign Office of some sort were clearly indicated at an early moment while the facts giving rise to the discrimination were still fresh. On the other hand, the Legation did not feel that the matter justified expenditure for a long telegram of explanation to the Department in order to obtain authorization to protest. Accordingly, the expedient was adopted of formulating the approach as an inquiry, a request for information which would necessarily be laid before the Department. The conversations which have been held on the subject are enclosed herewith in the form of memoranda. The reply of the Foreign Office, however, cannot be expected prior to the return of the Shah, which is expected on March 27th, from his journey in the south.

It may be added that it seemed best to take advantage of the favorable atmosphere now existing due to the recent consummation of the Hart concessions.17 It would have been unfair to Mr. Hart to inject a delicate element of this sort before his concessions were legally completed on the Iranian side, but now that they are complete this objection has lost its force.

Admittedly, the whole question is one to be handled with caution. But the French have now been tarred with the same brush as ourselves; they received a very thin coating, quickly removed, whereas we have been wearing a very thick one for a long time. To the Legation it has seemed justifiable at this time to ask the simple question: “Why?”

Respectfully yours,

Gordon P. Merriam
[Enclosure 1]

Memorandum of Conversation Between the American Chargé (Merriam) and the Chief of the Third Political Division of the Iranian Foreign Office (Massoud-Ansari), March 16, 1937

The Chargé d’Affaires, accompanied by the Legation interpreter, called on M. Massoud-Ansari for the purpose of reminding the Foreign [Page 731] Office of our proposal for an extradition treaty. After this matter had been disposed of, the Chargé said that he wished to speak of the situation which had existed for some time of the non-delivery in Iran of American second-class mail. This was a matter which the Legation has been observing with attention, and in view of recent developments the Chargé found that he would be obliged to submit a report to his Government. There were several circumstances for which he could not find a satisfactory explanation; consequently, before sending in his report, he had thought it well to ask the Foreign Office about them.

The Chargé went on to say that there had been a pretty complete ban on American second-class mail for eleven months. During this period of time the Legation had watched items appearing upon Iran in the American press and in the press of other countries where expression was free, and it had come to the conclusion that the American press was not more at fault than the press of some other countries.

He added that recently a certain Government had had difficulties over the press, that the publications of that country had been stopped for only two weeks, and that delivery had now been resumed. The Chargé emphasized at this point that it was not his purpose to make trouble for anyone else. But the truth was that, although the facts were similar, the delivery of American publications had been withheld for eleven months, whereas those of another country had been withheld for two weeks. He could not explain why this should be, and would appreciate receiving an explanation from the Foreign Office. The United States postal authorities had addressed several inquiries about the matter to the Iranian Posts and Telegraphs and had not even received the courtesy of a reply.

M. Massoud-Ansari said that the matter would receive his earnest attention and that he would discuss it at his next meeting with the Foreign Minister. He quite understood that it was not the Chargé’s purpose to make trouble for others.

The Chargé asked what possible interest, for example, the Iranian Government could have in not delivering such a magazine as Yachting, which had never published a word about Iran and probably never would. He pointed out that with perhaps one or two exceptions American publications, despite the fact that they had been barred in Iran, had remained thoroughly friendly in tone and attitude toward this country and it seemed that they should be rewarded for this, not penalized. The situation had in some respects become absurd. For instance, the American College had ordered some textbooks from the United States which were required reading for the Government examinations. They had not been delivered. The position was therefore that the Government prohibited the importation of books which it required to be read. The College had not requested the Chargé to do [Page 732] anything about the matter; he merely spoke of it to show the absurdity of the situation.

M. Massoud-Ansari, who had been taking notes, promised again to make inquiries.

The Chargé then drew his attention to the fact that two second-class mail communications from the Department, marked “Official Business,” had been opened before delivery. They contained official forms and copies of the Congressional Record. Most of the material sent out by the Department by second-class mail had latterly not been delivered at all.

The Chargé concluded by saying, smilingly but emphatically, that if all the remarks in the American press which had given offense to Iran during the past ten years, and all the remarks which would give offense during the next ten years were added together, he felt sure they would not equal in offensiveness the anti-American campaign in the Teheran press of a year ago.

[Enclosure 2]

Memorandum of Conversation Between the American Chargé (Merriam) and the Chief of the Third Political Division of the Iranian Foreign Office (Massoud-Ansari), March 24, 1937

M. Massoud-Ansari called at the Legation and after the subject of his visit had been concluded, the Chargé referred to their previous conversation on the subject of American second-class mail matter. He said that it had just that morning come to his attention that the Consulate had no income tax forms. The Department of State sent these by second-class mail and they had apparently been stopped like everything else. The result was that Americans residing in Iran, unless they obtained the forms in some other way, could not submit their returns and were liable to penalties under the law.

M. Massoud-Ansari replied that he had submitted a full report on the matter to the Foreign Minister and that he would inform the Chargé of the latter’s instructions as soon as they were issued.

  1. See pp. 734 ff.