788.00/1–3050: Despatch

The Ambassador in Iran (Wiley) to the Secretary of State

No. 45

Subject: General Foreign and Domestic Political Situation of Iran.

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the Department’s recent instructions1 and to submit a brief review of the general foreign and domestic political situation of Iran.

Foreign Affairs:

The overshadowing cloud in the foreign political situation continues to be the USSR. Russo-Iranian relations are marked by constant frontier incidents and Soviet territorial encroachment, which in some areas averages about two miles a year. All this is accompanied by thundering propaganda, subversive infiltration and by pressures which, since I have been here, have included strong Soviet notes and vigorous diplomatic representations.

At the moment, the Soviet Ambassador, Ivan Vassilievitch Sadchikov, after a prolonged absence in the Soviet Union, has returned, presumably with new instructions. His staff is being strongly reinforced. Particular attention has been attached by the assignment here of Daniel Simonovitch Komisarov, who is an area specialist with previous [Page 460] service in Iran. He is described as “brilliant”, and a Soviet Svengali. It is clear that his presence here is most unwelcome to the Iranian Government.

The Embassy has had very conflicting reports with regard to the assignment here of Mr. Komisarov; first, that his visa had been refused. Then Mr. Komisarov arrived. The Embassy was thereafter informed that the Iranian Government would request Mr. Komisarov’s recall. Mr. Komisarov remains, but the Prime Minister has told me that Mr. Komisarov must depart.2

Russian policy towards Iran reflects as ever the urge to the sea. The Soviet Union denies the validity of the rejection by the Majlis of the oil concession3 negotiated with Qavam.4 Certainly, the Soviet Union would like to deny to the Western world the oil of Abadan and, eventually, to reach the Persian Gulf.

A happy feature of the situation is that Iran has succeeded so far in staying outside the iron curtain and has not, as yet, shown any indication whatsoever of being intimidated by frontier incidents or diplomatic pressures.

Iranian relations with Great Britain are in a delicate and difficult stage. The petroleum concession with the AIOC was renegotiated but, though not rejected, was not ratified by the Majlis. It is the concensus in Iran that, though the renegotiation would perhaps double the revenues of the Iranian Government, the renegotiation does not go far enough. It contains clauses and conditions which remain unpalatable to the Persians.

The British Ambassador, Sir John Le Rougetel, who is about to depart for another post, is of the opinion that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company has already gone too far in yielding to Iranian demands. It is his decided opinion that neither the British Government, which holds the majority of the stock of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, nor the Board of Directors of the Company will budge an inch. In other words he maintains that the agreement5 must be submitted to the Majlis as it is, or should not be submitted at all. On the other hand the two counselors of the British Embassy, Lawford6 and [Page 461] Pyman,7 do not seem to be in agreement with the Ambassador. I have also suggested to the Ambassador that a “take it or leave it” policy might be too inelastic.

Moreover, in the relations with Great Britain, there is the question of the British Bank of Iran and the Middle East, formerly known as, the Imperial Bank of Iran. Agreement with regard to the renewal of its concession has been held up by Mr. A. H. Ebtehaj, Governor of the Bank Melli (National Bank of Iran), who for 17 years was an employee of the aforesaid British Bank. It is believed that the question of this concession, in spite of the opposition of Mr. Ebtehaj, can be satisfactorily worked out. The fly in the Iranian-British ointment really centers in the question of the Oil Company; not the Bank.

Relations of Iran with the United States are at the moment very good. The visit of the Shah to America was a resounding success in its repercussions in Iran. There has been, of course, excessive optimism that on the return of the Shah from the United States miracles would ensue. Moreover, we must foresee the possibility of deep disappointment when it is finally realized in Iran the extent to which American military and economic aid will be limited.

Domestic Political Situation:

The domestic political scene for the last fourteen months has been marked by a curious contrast of violence and tranquillity. Five bullets touched the person of the Shah in an attempt at assassination.8 Later his Minister of Court, Hajir,9 was murdered in a mosque. Sa’ed who, when he took office as Prime Minister 14 months ago, was awarded a political life of a few weeks only, is still in office. He has kept the Government on an even keel; at least a negative accomplishment of no small merit under the circumstances.

The political structure of the country now heads up to the Shah who, with a revised constitution and a senate, will exercise much greater powers than heretofore. I shall revert to the position of the Shah later.

The weakness of the political structure in Iran is the great poverty of competent public men. There is a stratum of age and then one of youth. There is not very much in between. Strong men are not numerous. Age is respected; youth is suspect.

Qavam, a political leader who indeed was strong, is now in France. He is, I think, the victim of anno domini and, according to his medical counselor, he will be obliged to submit to a very serious operation which, in view of his general physical condition and the infirmities of [Page 462] advanced years, may be quite dangerous. He still remains, according to my best information, very ambitious politically. He would like to regain the post of Prime Minister and rule Iran. I think anno domini will win.

To continue with the roster of other old political leaders:

Mohammad Sa’ed Maragheh’i, the Prime Minister, has had 44 years of public service, is now 68 years of age, and suffers from high blood pressure. He was educated in Russia; served in Batum, Baku and Moscow and knows the Russia of old and of the present most intimately. He is honest, adaptable and predictable. I feel that his earnest desire is to find a foxhole in the not too distant future; either an Embassy or a place in the Senate. There is a possibility, however, that the Shah may insist that he remain on as Prime Minister; at least until the question of the oil concession comes to a head in the Majlis.

The role of Sa’ed would be most valuable to Iran if he could be preserved by the Shah as Counselor or elder statesman; perhaps as Minister of Court, but relieved of administrative burdens and Majlis strife.

Taqizadeh,10 a man of proven integrity, is likewise the victim of anno domini. He is ultra-conservative and, though he has quite a following, is not an inspiring leader. From him I expect very little, except perhaps a restraining influence.

Seyid Zia ed-Din Tabatabai is competent, energetic and much younger than his years. However, he is somewhat the Elbert Hubbard type of food-faddist but, in spite of his fluffy hair, he is too wise to aspire to the post of Prime Minister at present. He will probably be incapable of achieving it later. Seyid Zia, however, is not a bad person, and if he so desired could have considerable British backing.

Ali Mansur, ex Prime Minister and ex Governor General of Azerbaijan, is the Persian version of Uriah Heep. He has notoriously sticky fingers and at the present moment is head of the High Council of the Seven Year Plan which apparently is overcommitting itself financially at a most rapid rate. Ali Mansur has soaring political ambitions and until recently has had, I think, the support of the British Ambassador for the Prime Ministership. This support, I understand, has been withdrawn. The Overseas Consultants Incorporated is, I believe, eager that he be ousted from his present post. His political though not his private fortunes seem to be in the descendant.

In my thinking there are three personages who merit great attention and scrutiny. I shall revert first of all to the Shah. He is Swiss educated, very Europeanized, and is 30 years of age. He is fearless but [Page 463] gentle and a man of good will. He is sincerely dedicated to social justice, an improved standard of living for the people, and good works. I have never quite made up my mind about the Shah, although I know him very well. He has been under strong pressure from his mother, the entourage of the Court and others, to step into the authoritative shoes of his late father, Reza Shah Pahlavi. These pressures he has so far resisted. There is no doubt that he has a very great streak of stubbornness. Whether this stubbornness represents merely weakness or a strength of will reflecting a desire to do things in his own fashion and time, I do not know. It might, of course, be that he is a little too Westernized for an Oriental country.

I wish to mention particularly the Shah’s half brother, Prince Abdorreza. The Prince is a Harvard graduate, where he majored in government and economics. He is now 26 years of age. After a distinguished University career in the United States he returned to Iran two years ago, convinced that he could reorganize the economic life of the country. He collided with intrigue and some months ago, during the reorganization of the Seven Year Plan, found himself frustrated and humiliated. He has been, however, resilient and started at once forming his own cadres. After a break, almost complete, with the Shah, he and the Shah seem to have reestablished a fairly close relationship.

The Prince returned to Iran determined to dedicate himself to the economic side only of public life and to abjure politics. He is still determined to concentrate on economic affairs but has, so he has told me, decided that it was essential that he enter the political field.

Though immature, Prince Abdorreza has intelligence, personal charm and much energy. He is inclined to be very outspoken in private conversation and his comments on General Razmara are unprintable. To put it mildly, he considers him “a snake in the grass”. However, they have been meeting recently and apparently a “cordial” working relationship has developed. My fingers are crossed.

I shall now come to the subject of General Razmara. As the Department knows, General Razmara is a Saint Cyrien. He is a soldier who impresses soldiers as a soldier. He is very lean and a young 49. He has been at the top of the military ladder for a long time. This is his second tour of duty as Chief of Staff. As nearly as I can make out, he holds the Iranian Army in the palm of his hand. Before the ejection of the “Democratic Regime” from Azerbaijan, he did not enjoy the confidence of the Shah. Then he gained it. But the Shah intends, if he can, to keep him on the leash.

However, any officer who does not have the confidence of General Razmara is removed from contact with troops. The one exception I [Page 464] can think of is General Shahbakhti,11 in Azerbaijan, and apparently General Razmara will shortly be able to separate him from the Army.

General Razmara lives in a modest, bourgeois manner. There are no indications of affluence. Rumors are always rife that he, like others in Iran, is accumulating great wealth. There has never, as yet, been confirmation of any of these rumors. It is known that on one occasion the Qashqais sent Razmara a large bribe and that after a few days he returned it. A notable factor is, however, that his tribal relationships are now of the best and that he works in close harmony with the four Qashqai brothers.

Information regarding Razmara’s possible entry into political life has come to the Embassy from at least four good sources and has been confirmed by General Razmara himself. In conversation with Colonel Drury he has indicated that, if requested, he would not refuse the post of Prime Minister.

The present Prime Minister, Sa’ed, in conversation with me, refused to taire this very seriously (the Shah likewise), though the Prime Minister suggested that Razmara might be a little like de Gaulle. It is, I think, quite clear that General Razmara does not intend to enter the political arena until the question of the AIOC agreement has been solved.

If he should become Prime Minister, he would want to change the “system”. Just what he means by this, I do not know. It could mean very much; or very little. As Prime Minister, I am inclined to believe that he would not emulate Reza Shah Pahlavi; that he would not want to become Shah. He would probably want to play the role of a Richelieu. He is ambitious, utterly cold-blooded, ruthless and cinquicento.

To come back again to Prince Abdorreza, he is somewhat the same type as General Razmara. In spite of his Harvard background, he might be ruthless in the pattern of his father. The situation boils down to a constellation revolving around three stellar figures, namely the Shah, Razmara, and Abdorreza. The sharp blade of which Machiavelli wrote in “The Prince” may flash before the fifth act of this Persian tragedy.

There is in Iran an underlying psycho-political factor of great significance; the Iranian people from top to bottom much prefer to be governed by a strong hand, even if wrong, than by a weak one, even if right.

Respectfully yours,

John C. Wiley
  1. The instructions under reference are not herein further identified.
  2. Mr. Komissarov served as First Secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Iran from December 1949 until March 16, 1950.
  3. For documentation on the Soviet-Iranian impasse over the agreement of April 1946 regarding the exploitation of oil resources in northern Iran by the Soviet Union, see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, pp. 890 ff.
  4. Ahmad Qavam, Prime Minister of Iran, 1946–1947.
  5. Reference is to the Supplemental Agreement between the Imperial Iranian Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Limited, made at Tehran on July 17, 1949; text in British Cmd. 8425, Persia No. 1 (1951): Correspondence between His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the Persian Government, and Related Documents concerning the Oil Industry in Persia, February 1951 to September 1951, p. 19.
  6. Valentine G. Lawford, Counselor of the British Embassy in Iran.
  7. Lancelot F. L. Pyman, Oriental Counselor of the British Embassy in Iran.
  8. For documentation on the assassination attempt, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vi, pp. 471 ff.
  9. Abdol Hosein Hajir was assassinated in Tehran on November 4, 1949.
  10. Seyed Hasan Taqizadeh, President of the Iranian Senate.
  11. Brig. Gen. Mohammad Shahbakhti, Inspector of Azerbaijan Forces.