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115. Memorandum From the Director of the U.S. Technical Cooperation Administration Mission in Iran (Warne) to the Ambassador to Iran (Henderson)1

My visit with Seyed Abdol Ayatollah Kashani

At his request brought to me by one of his sons and after discussing the matter with you, I went to a home in Shimron at 11 a.m. on August 11 to meet Ayatollah Kashani. Present at most of the conference also was Mr. Shams Ghanat-Abadi, a mullah, reported son-in-law, and close follower of Kashani, who is a deputy from Shahrod, and two sons of Kashani, one a mullah named Khashanizahed Kashani, and the other named Mostafa Kashani.

After waiting some 30 minutes while Kashani completed a conference with mullahs in another room, I was joined by Ayatollah Kashani. He appeared most interested in our conference; to the point indeed of keeping me there past 1 o’clock, which is his lunch time, through luncheon, and until his siesta period at 2 p.m. The conference, of course, was slower than those we might hold where only one language is spoken because of the necessity of translating carefully everything that was said. I was accompanied by Mr. Ardeshir Zahedi, of Point 4, who acted as interpreter for the conference.

At the outset, I congratulated Kashani on his election as President of the Majlis. I said this was a great honor but also a great responsibility in these times. He replied that he considered it as a very small matter since long before he had been spiritual leader of most of the Middle East. I said I recognized the responsibilities he had carried as spiritual leader of millions but I did not think one could over-emphasize the importance of being President of the Majlis in Iran at a time when Iran held such a fateful position in the world. He then said that his position as spiritual leader gave him great power as the events of last month had clearly shown. He said he would give his life for his country and was motivated only by its best interests. He said when Great Britain and the United States brought in Qavam as Prime Minister his displeasure was based on the fact that it was not in the interests of Iran and his displeasure was reflected in the demonstrations that overthrew Qavam. He said some people thought the communists had joined him but he assured me that he was even more against the communists.

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Kashani said long ago he was visited by a Mr. Dooher who asked his help in bringing Razmara to power. He said he told Mr. Dooher the United States would be making a mistake to bring Razmara forward and this had proved to be so. He said that 20 days before Qavam came in he had evidence of Anglo-American joint action to that end and that such action had been a mistake, too.

At this point I said it was not true that the United States had assisted in bringing Qavam into power and that I could assure him that the United States did not interfere in the internal affairs of Iran. I said we had no advance information of Qavam’s coming to power. I said, however, if he wanted to discuss political and diplomatic questions they should be brought up with you, the United States Ambassador, and these were not my field of responsibility.

When this was translated to Kashani, he dropped the subject (a little to my surprise) and political matters were not again discussed. The conference turned completely to a discussion of the Point 4 program and plans for the economic development of Iran. Several things stand out as very pointed impressions of this conference. These are:

(1) Ayatollah Kashani, though elderly, is vigorous and alert.

(2) Ayatollah Kashani seems to be isolated. He is surrounded by his own relatives and a few mullahs, and almost no one else seems to be on intimate terms with him.

(3) Ayatollah Kashani has sublime faith in his religious leadership. He believes that this gives him extraordinary power of leadership in Iran. I believe that he has no doubt that he could rally the people for or against almost any other institution or influence.

(4) Ayatollah Kashani and his intimate followers have little conception of what goes on outside relatively narrow circles. They know little of the Western world or of the Eastern world outside their homeland.

(5) Ayatollah Kashani does not seem to be an unfriendly person or lacking in warmth and seems to have an underlying compassion for the poor peoples of Iran.

As we talked, Ayatollah Kashani said he hoped that Point 4, the programs of which I had carefully explained to him from A to Z, would do something “Really substantial” for Iran. He thought a big dam in the river near Isfahan and a dam on the Karun would be good ideas and would meet his specifications. He asked me how much I thought such dams would cost. I told him I could give him only the barest horseback opinion but through familiarity with the work of the Bureau of Reclamation of the United States, in which I had served for many years, and as a result of a fairly good reconnaissance of the Karun River made earlier this year, I thought 200 to 250 million dollars would be required to [Page 319]develop a satisfactory project on the Karun involving storage of water, generation of electric power, irrigation by pumps and by direct diversion, and the possibility of navigation on the lower river and through large canals to Bandarshapur. He appeared amazed and said he thought 100 dams could be built for 200 million dollars. I said one could not generalize about the cost for dams but that good engineering work had to precede the design and construction of any such project to provide sound estimates. I said I knew costs in the United States, however, and big dams cost big money anywhere.

Ayatollah Kashani again urged me to advocate “substantial work” by the United States in Iran and suggested that I should go to the United States immediately to present the case for such works. I told him that I was in agreement as to the need for projects to develop and utilize resources of Iran and that I had given a great deal of thought to such projects. I said that Point 4 had directed a part of its work into those areas and that I thought we might be able to bring forward specific designs and specifications of projects that could be adopted by the International Bank or Export-Import Bank or some other agency that might provide the necessary capital. I said it seemed to me that Iran would need a stable flow of foreign exchange before such works could be prosecuted which indicated the need for a settlement of the oil issue and a resumption of oil sales.

I said that Point 4 would be very happy to work with the Iranian Government agencies in attempting to prepare substantial programs for internal improvements in Iran though I doubted that the present program would be able to finance the large capital requirements of any such improvements. I asked whether he or Mr. Ghanat-Abadi had suggestions as to programs that might be taken up. I said that I thought responsible leaders of the government ought to assist in the development of plans. No other suggestion than the two dams mentioned above were made. Instead I was asked for some suggestions.

I mentioned the discovery of oil at Qum and the possibility of developing a project for low cost kerosene as a substitute fuel in the rural areas. This seemed to interest and excite them. They said if I could not go to the United States to present the requirements of Iran for substantial development they hoped I would write. I said I had been reporting the needs of the country and would try to continue to do so.

Throughout the conference reference to communist activities and the threat of communism were made by Mr. Kashani and Mr. Ghanat-Abadi. They always spoke of the communist activities as something deleterious to the country and antagonistic to their positions.

At one point Ayatollah Kashani said the misery of the people alone could turn them away from their faith and to communism. He said he did not fear his ability to rally the people to patriotic action unless the [Page 320]people became more desperately hungry when he feared they would turn to communism. The notes of my interpreter at this point contain “Mr. Kashani added that communism was the worst enemy of Iran and that to stop communism the present deplorable condition of the people should be improved. A hungry person will not go after moral values and religion.”

At another point Mr. Kashani referred to his dislike of the British and his equal dislike of the Russians. He said he would like to see the friendship between Iran and the United States strengthened in order that Iran might be better able to resist communism.

I said that our program was not “anti-communistic” but was a constructive program to help Iran help herself. I said I did not wake up each morning thinking, “How can I fight communism?” but I woke up each morning thinking, “How can I assist in fighting the diseases, hunger, and poverty that plague the people of Iran?” I said that if this was an attack on the roots of communism then communism was a diseased plant and ought to be rooted out.

Kashani said he was devoted to the welfare of the people, and he thought substantial programs of improvement were needed because the people were sick and hungry.

One time when Mr. Kashani mentioned substantial programs he said something that deprecated a bit the Point 4 deep water well program. Mr. Ghanat-Abadi interrupted him and said “do not under estimate the well program. Do not say anything against it. I need a Point 4 well at Shahrod or I may not be reelected.”

Unlike many Iranians, Kashani had no pet or personal projects to put forward. The only time he mentioned a specific project for our consideration was in connection with a discussion of the plight of some of the poor people south of Tehran. He said some of these people, perhaps communist-led, had been squatting on land belonging to the government or others. He said he thought it would be appropriate for Point 4 to consider putting in a couple of wells to serve these people since they were needy and their lot was indeed hard. He thought that might keep them from desperate actions.

Near the close of the conference, Mr. Kashani said he appreciated the efforts of Point 4 to assist Iran but he wanted me to inform my countrymen of the conditions and needs of this country. He expressed his hope for the success of this American mission “Inshallah”—God willing.

Before the conference closed, Mr. Ghanat-Abadi asked permission to take up a matter or two with me. He said that some people had come to him and attacked Point 4 on the grounds that we did all our trucking business with Levant Express which was run by Armenians. He said that he did not mean that we should avoid Armenians because of reli[Page 321]gious differences with the Moslems but that we should take into consideration that as a minority group they have for centuries acted as spies against the country and they welcomed the Russians with wreaths and they welcomed the British with wreaths. He thought Iranian enterprises should not be rejected in favor of Armenians. I said I hoped he understood that religious and racial differences were not taken into consideration in public matters in the United States and that our government attempted to maintain consistent policy of non-discrimination and that I was trying to do the same in the work of Point 4 here. I said that whenever anyone could show that he could do our transportation business cheaper and better than Levant he would get the business. I said, further, that we had endeavored to maintain a local employment policy that would keep Moslems and Armenians at the relative proportion in our organization that they had throughout the country.

After the luncheon for which I had no previous intention to stay but to which I was urgently and repeatedly invited, I made my adieus and left with the thanks of Mr. Kashani for a pleasant conference and his expressed hope again for the success of the mission. As I left, he again mentioned the need of the people of Javadeyeh, which is close to the railroad station south of Tehran, for drinking water.

William E. Warne 2
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 469, Records of U.S. Foreign Assistance Agencies 1948–1961, Mission to Iran, Executive Office Subject Files (Central Files) 1951–1961, Box 6, Folder 7, Travel Development—Political 1952. Confidential.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature with an indication that Warne signed the original.