Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. John D. Jernegan of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs13

Participants: Mr. Richard Casey, British Minister of State in the Middle East
Mr. Murray
Mr. Ailing14
Mr. Jernegan

Mr. Murray opened the conversation by reverting to the previous long telegram of December 11 to London15 setting forth our general attitude toward Iranian affairs, vis-à-vis the British Government, and our surprise and regret at the apparent lack of coordination between the policies of the Foreign Office at London and the actions of the British authorities in Iran.

Mr. Casey expressed his entire agreement with the first part of that telegram, in which the Department explained the reasons for its special interest in Iran in connection with the furtherance of the common cause of the United Nations and its understanding that the British Government welcomed this interest and was in substantial accord with the American Government with respect to the policy to be followed. He appeared to feel that we might have been misinformed, or have misinterpreted British actions, with respect to the various incidents cited in the final portion of the cable. Specifically, he said that the delay in conclusion of the Anglo-American-Iranian Food Agreement of December 4 was not due to any desire on the part of the British to cause such a delay. It was, rather, because of the necessity for carrying on three-cornered telegraphic correspondence between Tehran, London and Cairo with regard to phraseology and various details as well as questions of policy which had to be decided. At a later stage in the conversation, Mr. Casey said that he himself had been responsible for one change in the bases of negotiation, which doubtless contributed to the delay, since he had suggested that the food agreement not be concluded unless a satisfactory long-term solution of the currency question were reached at the same time. [Page 326] He pointed out that we had been proposing to bind ourselves for a period of some twelve months in connection with wheat supplies, whereas no arrangement had been made which would assure us of a supply of rials for more than a month or two.

Mr. Murray then went on to read excerpts from certain telegrams received by the Department:

Tehran’s 362, November 7,16 in which Mr. Dreyfus reported new conditions proposed by the British Minister as essential requirements to signature of the food agreement, the most notable being that the Iranian Government must support the war effort, must seek full powers from the Majlis, and must agree to modify the cabinet in accordance with the wishes of the Allies. Mr. Casey expressed surprise at this and indicated that he had not hitherto been aware of these proposals. He seemed particularly struck by the suggestion that Iran must support the war effort, indicating that he did not think such an undertaking could mean very much. Mr. Murray stated very emphatically that the British Minister’s proposals had astonished the Department, which had been unable to comprehend the reasoning behind them and regarded them as most unwise and as indicating an unfortunate point of view on the part of the British Minister at Tehran.
Mr. Murray then read a part of London’s telegram 6340, November 11,17 confirming Mr. Dreyfus’ report regarding conditions proposed by the British Minister and saying that the Foreign Office had already advised the Minister at Tehran that it did not regard them favorably.
With further reference to the attitude of the British Minister, Mr. Murray next read the statement in Tehran’s telegram no. 427 of December 918 to the effect that the Counselor of the British Legation had told Mr. Dreyfus of the intention of the British Minister to tell the Shah that he could not favor bringing cereals to Iran while the country was so hostile to the Allies. Mr. Murray again remarked that the Iranians could not be expected to become more friendly in the face of such an attitude.
Finally, with reference to British policy in arresting Iranians suspected of pro-Axis activities, Mr. Murray read the first two sentences of Tehran’s telegram no. 451, of December 19,19 reporting General Ridley’s conversation with the British Minister. He pointed out that Sir Reader Bullard had agreed, after the damage had been done, that the British authorities should refrain from arrests of Iranian army officers but should permit the Iranians themselves to handle such cases. Mr. Murray went on to say that this was the policy the British [Page 327] themselves had always followed in Egypt, and he felt that it was surprising that it had not been adopted in Iran.

Mr. Casey said he would like to explain that all the British authorities in the Middle East had been greatly worried by the Iranian situation. He himself had gone to Tehran and spent three or four days there seeking light on the matter. He had found an impression on the part of the British Legation that the American Minister was not taking an active interest in the problem and was not cooperating in the effort to find a solution. Mr. Casey appeared to feel that there might be some basis for this impression, although he himself was not in a very good position to judge. So far as he could gather, the entire weight of the crisis had fallen upon the British, since the Russians, as usual, were unhelpful and would not even provide information regarding their own activities in northern Iran. Consequently, the British had felt that they must go ahead and do the best they could on their own.

Mr. Murray said that any apparent holding-back on the part of the American Minister might be attributable in part to a feeling that the British were, after all, in occupation of Iran and, therefore, should properly take the initiative. A further consideration might be a belief that general British policy in the area was too much influenced by a “crack down” spirit, a spirit which had long-since gone out of favor in the United States. The Department was strongly of the opinion that the Iranians could be better handled through conciliatory methods than through the application of pressure. Mr. Murray emphasized that Mr. Dreyfus had acted throughout under the instructions of the Department and in entire accord with the policies of the Department.

In this connection, Mr. Murray read an excerpt from Tehran’s telegram no. 4 of January 4.20 He omitted any reference to the letter21 written by General Wilson to General Andrews,22 but mentioned that Mr. Casey might have heard that Mr. Dreyfus had been accused of being anti-British. He then went on to read Mr. Dreyfus’ remarks regarding his personal and official relations with British officials and his general attitude toward the British, Russians and Iranians. He also read the final sentence of the telegram, as a further illustration of what we considered an unfortunate attitude of certain British officials toward the Iranian situation.

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Mr. Casey said that he expected to revisit Iran in the near future and at that time would do his best to straighten out any differences of viewpoint which might exist between Mr. Dreyfus and Sir Reader Bullard. Mr. Murray expressed his hearty approval.

Mr. Casey then referred to the generally weak moral fiber of the Iranian people. He said that the Shah had spoken of this to him and had expressed the wish to do Something about it. Mr. Casey had suggested that the Shah gather together a group of the better type of younger men and use them as an influence on the rest of the population. In particular, he had mentioned a young man, whose name he had forgotten, the head of the mortgage bank, who had impressed him with his character and understanding of Iranian problems. The Shah had agreed that this man was a fine type, but had expressed doubt as to the possibility of finding others.

Mr. Murray said that he welcomed Mr. Casey’s attitude on this question, since it coincided exactly with our own. … We had, some months ago, suggested this to the British Foreign Office but the reply had been discouraging. The Foreign Office had taken the position that any attempt by Great Britain or the United States to push forward any individuals would result in the branding of those persons as foreign “tools” and would destroy their usefulness. Mr. Murray pointed out that this Foreign Office view was hardly in accord with the drastic measures which had been proposed by Sir Reader Bullard in connection with the alteration of the Iranian Cabinet at the will of the Allies. He went on to say that he hoped very much that Mr. Casey would join with us in supporting the entrance into public life of young men of the right type, and he emphasized that the important thing for the future was to have good men in office with minds of their own, not someone who would take orders from any foreign power which supported him. Mr. Casey said that he entirely agreed.

Mr. Murray then spoke of certain suggestions which had been made that the Majlis should be dissolved. He said that we had been inclined to consider this proposal, but that we had now come very much to the conviction that it would be unwise, since the Majlis, with all its faults, served as a safety valve and was regarded by the Iranian people as the safeguard of their liberties. Mr. Casey agreed with this view and said that dissolution of the Majlis had been considered only when it seemed that it might be the only way to solve the currency impasse.

Finally, Mr. Murray said that he would like to throw out a thought with regard to the Russian position in Iran. Our reports indicated that the Russians, by following a conciliatory policy and by engaging in elaborate propaganda, had established themselves very strongly in [Page 329] northern Iran. One of our reports had even gone so far as to say that a Soviet could be set up in Azerbaijan overnight, if the Russians gave the word. This trend seemed very reminiscent of the policy followed by Russia twenty years ago in the early days of the communist regime. At that time, the U.S.S.R. had made a grand gesture of taking Iran under its protection and had given back to Iran all of the Russian rights and concessions, such as the railroad, the bank, et cetera. The purpose of that policy had been, of course, to put Great Britain on the defensive in Iran, weaken her influence there, and it had succeeded. A parallel might well be drawn with the present situation. As a specific instance, the Russians had not followed the British example in moving troops into Tehran last month, and in consequence Russian standing had improved and British had declined. Mr. Murray felt, therefore, that the British Government should keep this in mind. It was worth considering why the Russians were taking such pains to establish themselves in northern Iran. In any case, it would be advisable for the British and American Governments to coordinate their policies and stand together in Iran.

  1. Forwarded on January 14 by the Adviser on Political Relations (Murray) to the Secretary of State.
  2. Paul H. Ailing, Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs.
  3. Telegram No. 6280, Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. iv, p. 214.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. iv, p. 180.
  5. Ibid., p. 191.
  6. Ibid., p. 209.
  7. Not printed; it reported a conversation between Maj. Gen. Clarence S. Ridley and the British Minister in Iran regarding the arrest on December 8, 1942, by the British of Iranian General Zahidi, Governor General of Isfahan province (891.00/1973); for correspondence on this incident, see Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. iv, pp. 206 ff. General Ridley, a United States Army engineer officer of wide experience, had been assigned by the War Department to act as military adviser to the Iranian Government on matters pertaining to the Services of Supply of the Iranian Army; for correspondence on the Ridley Mission, see ibid., pp. 253263, passim.
  8. Not printed; it concerned a report of a complaint made against the American Minister in Iran by Gen. Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, British Commander in Chief, Persia–Iraq Command (891.00/1978).
  9. Not printed.
  10. Lt. Gen. F. M. Andrews, Commanding General, United States Army Forces, Middle East.