The Minister in Iran ( Dreyfus ) to the Secretary of State

No. 480

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following discussion of current American-Iranian relations.

The Department is well aware of the friendly attitude toward the United States which has been shown during the last year or so by the Iranian people and press. The purpose of this despatch is to consider how these cordial relations have been affected by our increased activity in Iran and by the deteriorated internal situation of the country.

[Page 339]

I suggested in despatch No. 363 of October 26, 1942,39 that there is a growing tendency on the part of the Iranians to classify the United States with the British and Russians and, at least by inference, to blame us increasingly for Iran’s woes. While this tendency is still noticeable and has even increased to a certain extent, the press and public continue on the whole to treat the United States in a friendly and favorable manner. It would seem not unlikely, however, that Iranian criticism of the United States will grow as our complex problems in Iran multiply, as the Iranians feel more and more the inevitable pinch of the war, as some of the more difficult Iranian problems continue unsolved, and as Iranians begin to find that American advisers are human beings capable of error. The following paragraphs will examine some of the problems which are, or may become, points of irritation in our relations with the Iranians.

The presence of American troops in Iran is a potential source of difficulties. As indicated in my telegram No. 198 of February 22, the Prime Minister was interpellated in the Majlis on the subject of the presence without consent or agreement of American forces in Iran. The newspapers have also taken up this point but in a very mild and restrained way. There follows a typical example of newspaper comment on the subject:

Keihan Feb. 21 “We have very happy relations with the United States Government. But things should be done according to principles and regulations. They (the Americans) should not have entered this country in violation of principles and without previous authority. The Iranians did not protest because of the extreme friendship existing between the two countries. I request the cabinet of Mr. Soheily to maintain relations on the basis of principles. If the Americans wish they may also participate in the Treaty (tripartite pact).”

The Prime Minister, in answer to criticism on this score, replied in the Majlis on February 21 as follows:

“In the meantime I wish to bring to your attention the information I have obtained concerning the Americans. I will read to you the text of a letter received from the Foreign Office:

“‘Whereas the American Government assumed the position of sending armed forces to Iran, stating that the action is essential to expedite transport on the Iranian railway;

“‘Whereas on the strength of the Atlantic Charter and the democratic principles which form the basis of the policy of the United States Government, the Iranian Government has always been certain the American Government will not take any action inconsistent with the independence and integrity of Iran;

“‘Therefore, in order that the dispatch of these troops to Iran on the basis of the Atlantic Charter and with the consent of the Iranian Government should be based on an agreement with mutual consent, the Iranian Government requested the United States Government to enter into an agreement in this matter. A reply has been received from the Legation in Washington to the [Page 340] effect that the American Government is in principle in accord with the Iranian Government that this matter be put in order. For this reason it is contemplating an agreement between the two Governments in this respect.

“‘We hope that this project will be prepared and the agreement will be concluded’.”

The conduct of American forces in Tehran leaves something to be desired.40 Iranians are apt to notice and remark on drunkenness and disorder on the part of foreign troops. They have been impressed by the superior conduct of Russian soldiers as compared with American, British, and Polish. There is circulating an apparently authentic story of a Russian officer who was first broken in rank and later in the day executed for drunken conduct in the Palace Hotel. In contrast to this British troops, and to some extent American, receive little disciplinary action for their rowdy and sometimes drunken conduct. The question is receiving serious attention by the American military authorities in Tehran and there is, I believe, some improvement. It should be mentioned that the American forces here are raw and untrained technical forces. Motor accidents and occasional incidents are unavoidable where there are concentrations of troops. There have been several motor accidents, one or two fatal, involving American drivers and Iranians, but so far they have been settled with a minimum of friction, usually on the payment of “blood money”. A serious incident, which has given rise to public criticism, has just occurred. An American sentry at Camp Atterbury shot and killed an Iranian whom he was endeavoring to dissuade from defecating in or near the water supply. Warning shots were fired in the direction of the man and one appears to have deflected from a stone and caused his death. The sentry has been arrested and held for trial and the Iranian Foreign Office has been furnished full details. The incident has led to widespread misstatements that American soldiers have fired on many Iranians. The following statement in the Majlis is typical:

Deputy Amir-Teimur in the Majlis March 4: “I have a question to ask the Prime Minister, who is also Minister of Interior, and I request him to come here and answer it. The question is this: It is understood that American soldiers have opened fire on a number of innocent people and have killed several. I should like to know how many have been killed and why no action has been taken. If the matter is not true he may deny it, and if it is true the offenders should be punished.”

I have furnished full and correct details to the Prime Minister to enable him to answer the interpellation in the Majlis. In this connection I am promised by the Iranian Government that its agreement to permit jurisdiction by American military authorities over offenses [Page 341] committed by our forces will be forthcoming in the immediate future. I feel certain that the Iranians will not question American jurisdiction in the present case. The entire matter will be reported to the Department by separate despatch.

There is an increasing tendency on the part of the Iranians to think of the United States as one of the allies when they heap abuse and blame on the allies for Iran’s unfortunate food situation. I greatly regret the delays which took place in getting the 25,000 tons of wheat from the United States under way since it is arriving too late to meet the winter famine. However, it certainly was no fault of this Legation or of the Department of State, both of which moved heaven and earth to see that Iran’s wheat shortage was met. I am constrained to repeat that the fault must rest on the shoulders of the British who, even if well-intentioned, delayed the matter consistently because they were of the opinion that wheat hoards existed in the country and could be brought to light if sufficient pressure were put on the Iranians. The press takes the view that Iran has been pillaged by the allies, who now look blandly on while Iran starves. British propaganda in this matter of food has, in true style, tripped itself up and smashed its nose on the curb stone. In a radio broadcast and press release, to prove to the Iranians that the allies are actually in the process of helping Iran with wheat supplies, the British gave the opposite impression. Their statement repeated that there are hoards of wheat in various parts of Iran and declared that the reports being circulated to the effect that 10,000 tons of wheat from the United States have arrived are false. They failed for some mysterious reason to make known that several thousand tons of wheat have in fact arrived or are about to arrive at Persian Gulf ports. This broadcast was, I am told, the work of Counsellor Squire, that Indian civil servant par excellence, whose main preoccupation is to justify his consistent contention that there is sufficient wheat in Iran to feed the people. I have decided to take the matter in hand and see personally that newspaper editors are told the truth about allied aid to Iran in wheat, transport and other matters. The following excerpts from a leading editorial of Mehr-i-Iran of March 4 are typical of the bitterness Iranians feel about the wheat matter. They also reveal the potential danger to our own relations with Iran inherent in the wheat situation.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There are those who believe the existence of undercover efforts on the part of the British and Russians to discredit our advisers and American efforts in Iran. I see no evidence that the British are indulging in any kind of propaganda or whispering campaign to discredit us. They are undoubtedly aware that, considering their own low repute, any such program would fall on sterile ground and operate [Page 342] only to their own harm. As the Department knows, the British have in some cases requested that American advisers be sent to Iran. However, I have a feeling that the British agreed readily to our adviser program in the hopes that American prestige in this country, which they know has been at a peak, will fall considerably when the Iranians discover advisers are ordinary human beings and not supermen. The British know from bitter experience how difficult the Iranians are to deal with and perhaps take secret delight in letting the Americans have their round. As to the Russians, I have received several indications that they are beginning to resent the American adviser program. The Russian Ambassador has let drop a number of remarks which would indicate he is not entirely pleased. The Foreign Minister told me, for example, that the Ambassador had in conversation with him inquired pointedly as to why the Iranians are employing American advisers when it is well known that the Russians are the best administrators in the world. While these are only straws in the wind future Russian reaction to our program should be carefully observed.

I have given above some of the less favorable aspects of Iranian reaction to our efforts. It should be emphasized that they are definitely minority views covering exceptional cases. The press, public, and Majlis continue to treat us, on the whole, in a most friendly and flattering manner. Scores of press items monthly deal with America, principally with our war effort. They give stories of leading American personalities, reproduce pictures of planes and ships, print facts regarding American war production and generally deal with the American war effort in a favorable light. Let me quote, in closing, excerpts from a few of the many editorials which have in recent weeks presented America to the Iranian public in a most favorable manner.

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Respectfully yours,

Louis G. Dreyfus, Jr.
  1. Not printed.
  2. For correspondence on this subject, see pp. 487 ff.