Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray) to the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

Mr. Berle: With reference to my conversation with you yesterday on the above subject, this Division is of the opinion that, given the present outlook, the delivery of military airplanes to the Iranian Government would be undesirable.

Present indications are to the effect that Germany and Italy have told the Soviets to keep clear of the Turkish Straits but that the latter may be permitted, in order to satisfy their ever-present desire for warm water, to move in the direction of the Persian Gulf and India, taking the Anglo-Iranian oilfields in their stride. In such an eventuality, any American airplanes acquired by Iran would be used in self-defense against Russia. However, the military forces at the command of the Soviets are so overwhelmingly superior that the addition of fifty-odd machines to the small Iranian air force would have no effect on the outcome.

Under the Irano-Russian Treaty of 1921,51 Russia has the right to send troops into Iran if a third country attempts to turn Iranian [Page 657]territory into a base for military activity against the U. S. S. R. In view of recent Russian performances, this provision constitutes a pretext ready-to-hand.

The Russians have already demanded airfield facilities in Iran and requested the Iranians to enlarge existing fields and to create new ones. There is evidence that these demands are being met. In consequence, delivery of American airplanes to Iran would be tantamount to delivery thereof to the Soviets. The Iranians are not last-ditch fighters.

It is open to serious doubt whether the Iranian pilots could handle or maintain the latest-type pursuit and bombing planes which they insist upon having. Americans who have traveled on Iranian commercial airlines have been impressed by the lack of mechanical and flying skill displayed. The Iranian Government turned down an opportunity two years ago to secure the services of an American Army Air Corps Reserve officer, Colonel Larner, who we understand was at that time one of the few reserve officers who maintained a constant ability to fly the latest machines. It is not believed that the Iranians have had anyone of Colonel Larner’s caliber to train their air corps.

The Iranian Minister might be told that we have considered his country’s desires in a thoroughly friendly spirit, and that, as Mr. Young has already informed Major Chaltchi, head of the Iranian Aviation Mission here, there is no objection of principle to supplying the Iranian Government with the types of machines it desires. However, in view of the present international situation and the production bottleneck, we cannot, in the national interest, press the requirements of his Government any further than has been done.

Wallace Murray
  1. For text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. ix, p. 383.