The Ambassador in Iran (Allen) to the Secretary of State
52. Question of constitutional reform in Iran (Deptel 15, January 8) has become increased obsession of Shah during recent weeks and during my last conversation with him (Embtel 38 , January 13)1 he showed almost alarming preoccupation with it.[Page 96]
I concur that amendment of constitution to give crown authority to dissolve Majlis involves risk of abuse. I am not certain situation is yet serious enough to require action by us or to justify fully concern manifested by British or by Department but it bears watching.
As long as Shah seeks change in constitution by entirely legal means, it is difficult for us to find proper basis for injecting ourselves into question and advice on our part whether solicited or not would become known and would be construed by Iranians as interference in internal matter, just as expression of views by foreign diplomat in Washington on US constitutional amendment would be properly resented. British inclination to give advice too frequently to Iran in such matters in past has been important cause for deep-seated resentment against them here.
Moreover, if we object to legitimate efforts of Shah to amend constitution, we may unwittingly encourage illegitimate actions by him or someone else.
Shah’s dissatisfaction with his position has grown, paradoxically, with his greatly increased personal popularity and influence in Iran during past 18 months. During first years of his reign, when foreign troops were in Iran, he counted for very little and no one expected anything of him. Today when he is by far most influential figure in Iran, he is continually being urged by Iranians to do something positive to remedy chaotic political and economic condition of country. Yet he is aware that these same Iranians, who today lavish expressions of devotion to him, would be first to call him dictator if he took any steps which affect them personally, and he desires legally-enacted constitutional amendment before putting pressure on Majlis to carry out its functions.
I am not certain whether his desire for authority to dissolve Majlis is best solution, but problem, at least at present, is primarily Iranian one.
Majlis, as Department points out, is great safeguard of Iranian independence and its continued existence and full legislative authority is most important. At same time Majlis is almost entirely negative body with no apparent ability to take positive action. During six months of present Majlis, it has passed only two laws, one refusing Soviet oil concession and another approving provisional budget for two months. It has two or three short sessions a week and spends most of time debating members credentials. There is no party system to instill discipline and every member is on his own. Much positive action is required of Majlis if Iran is to improve, since executive in Iran has almost no authority to do anything under constitution as now drawn. If Shah or someone else had power to call for new elections, some sense of discipline might be instilled among deputies, from fear of being dismissed. Tampering [Page 97] with constitution is dangerous, and I personally am hesitant about authority being placed in hands of any hereditary monarch, but it would be difficult for us to sustain allegation that any serious attack against democratic processes was involved in Shah’s present proposals.
I have discussed situation with my British colleague on numerous occasions. He perhaps views Shah’s proposals with slightly more concern than I do, due possibly to fact that British interests in Iran are different from ours. British are frightened by any possibility of government in Iran strong enough to defy their interests or make serious attack on their oil concessions. British are concerned just as we are by continued failure of Iran to accomplish any economic and political improvements which would give genuine democracy chance to function here, but they may prefer continuance of present unsatisfactory situation rather than run risk of giving Iranian Government strength enough to act against them.
It goes without saying that our influence should be exercised fully and at all times against any dictatorship of the right in Iran, whether by Shah, army, or anyone else. At same time I would recommend some caution in following British suggestions too closely in this particular case and would follow situation ourselves to determine when and if our action is required.
Sent Department 52, repeated London 6.
- Not printed.↩