Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. John D. Jernegan of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs

Participants: Brigadier General Wedemeyer, Operations Division, General Staff Corps, War Department.
Mr. Murray63
Mr. Jernegan

Mr. Murray explained that recent reports from Tehran had caused the Department to fear that a situation might be created in which the British Government might occupy the whole of Iran and set up a puppet government. This situation had been brought into being by a critical food shortage, and the British and American Governments had been in consultation with a view to issuing a tri-partite Anglo-American-Iranian declaration whereby Great Britain and the United States would undertake to make up any deficit in Iranian grain supplies until the 1943 harvest should be gathered. Although we appeared to have reached an agreement on this subject with the Foreign Office at London, the British Minister at Tehran seemed to be disposed to exact progressively greater concessions from the Iranian [Page 190] Government as a condition to the proposed agreement. The British Minister’s latest proposals were sweeping, (including a demand that the Allies have the right to modify the Iranian cabinet at will) and we considered that they were not only morally unjustifiable but would be entirely unacceptable to the Iranian Government and would cause the fall of the cabinet and create a condition of general chaos. Because of the War Department’s direct interest in Iranian conditions, arising out of the Army’s undertaking to operate transport routes to Russia through Iran, we had wished to advise General Wedemeyer of these developments and obtain his views.

General Wedemeyer replied that the Army was indeed interested in maintaining stable conditions in Iran and realized the importance of feeding the Iranian people. He agreed that the concessions suggested by the British Minister seemed entirely improper and impolitic. He explained, however, that the British military authorities still retain the dominant voice in all operations in Iran. The American Army, he said, has undertaken merely to carry on the physical operation of the Trans-Iranian Railroad and the truck transport of supplies to Russia through Iran. Contrary to the wishes of the War Department, it had been forced to agree that the British authorities should retain the final voice not only in matters connected with the occupation of the country but also in determining the priorities of goods to be moved over the Iranian transport system. Consequently, General Wedemeyer indicated that the Army would not be disposed at this time to take a strong stand with respect to measures which the British Government or military authorities might decide to take.

Mr. Murray expressed the opinion that in the future, as in the past, the British would be unable to obtain Iranian cooperation in anything and that sooner or later the United States would have to assume a dominant role in Iran. It seemed to him that our own military authorities should properly control all questions pertaining to transport of goods on the Iranian routes which we are to operate. General Wedemeyer agreed and said that possibly within a few months the American Army might find itself in a position to reopen the question with the British. He indicated that at that time the War Department would be glad to have the cooperation of the Department of State in its negotiations.

With reference to the proposed undertaking to supply wheat, it was explained to General Wedemeyer that the British Government is trying to arrange the early shipment of 20,000 tons to take care of immediate needs. The Foreign Office had indicated that a corresponding reduction in other shipments (of Lend-Lease goods to Russia, military supplies, etc.) to Iran would have to be made. In addition it was to be expected that further shipments of wheat would be [Page 191] necessary at a later date; this would also require a reduction in shipping space for other types of goods.

General Wedemeyer said that he felt the best method of bringing this to the attention of the proper authorities in Washington would be to address a letter to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who would take it up with any other agencies concerned, such as Office of Lend-Lease Administration and War Shipping Administration. It was agreed, accordingly, that the Department would prepare such a letter.

Reference was also made to the acute currency situation in Iran, with the recurring need for additional issues of Iranian bank notes. It was explained to General Wedemeyer that in formulating policies to deal with this situation the Department felt it would be helpful to know the approximate volume of expenditures which the American forces now being sent to Iran were expected to make. General Wedemeyer said that in this case also he felt a letter to the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be indicated.

With respect to the American forces going to Iran, General Wedemeyer stated that they would ultimately total 25,000 but that they were primarily technical units capable only of limited defense operations for the protection of the supply routes. In other words, they would not be suitable to undertake the occupation of the country nor any serious combat operations. He said that a large quantity of supplies for their use and for the improvement of the Iranian transport system would be sent out in the near future and this would necessarily impose a further strain upon the available shipping space and capacity of the Persian Gulf ports. This equipment, he felt, should be given first priority since its object was to increase the capacity of the ports and transport system and would thus be, in the long run, beneficial from every point of view.

  1. Wallace Murray, Adviser on Political Relations.