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122. Memorandum From the Chief of the Iran Branch, Near East and Africa Division (Leavitt) to the Chief of the Near East and Africa Division, Directorate of Plans, Central Intelligence Agency (Roosevelt)1


  • Program to Support the Shah

1. The Objective: The establishment by the Shah of an Iranian Government willing and able to: (a) undertake necessary reforms; (b) effectively oppose Communism and extreme nationalism; (c) collaborate with the U.S. in such aids as we offer; and (d) accept a reasonable settlement of the oil controversy.

2. The Thornburg Program: Mr. Thornburg has recommended an early, direct approach to the Shah for the purpose of inducing him to lead and carry out what in effect would be a military coup.2 The Shah would be assured by the U.S. and U.K. of full moral support, sufficient material assistance to tide Iran over until the oil issue was amicably settled, and detailed advice with respect to: (a) the implementation of the coup; (b) the formation of a new Government; (c) the carrying out of necessary reforms; and (d) the settlement of the oil controversy.

3. From what we know of the Shah’s character, and particularly in view of his attitude during the July crisis, it seems to me extremely un[Page 352]likely that he would seriously consider leading a military coup, no matter what inducements in the way of economic and military aid were held out to him. It also seems very probable that, if attempted in the present political situation, such a coup would arouse such bitter opposition that the new Shah-appointed Government would have to employ extreme dictatorial methods in order to continue to survive. Even in the unlikely event that the Shah could be induced to adopt strong-arm methods initially, I find it difficult to believe that he would be willing to continue to sanction such methods indefinitely.

4. A further weakness in Thornburg’s program, it seems to me, is the role assigned to the U.S. and the U.K. Official U.S., and particularly U.K., support of the Shah’s new Government would lay the Shah open to charges of being a Western puppet, and would greatly increase rather than reduce opposition to him. Detailed U.S. and/or U.K. advice to the Shah or members of the new Government would have the same effect and could not safely be done, except on an extremely secure covert basis, until some time after the new Government had come to power.

5. Basic Assumptions: In attempting to devise a course of action to achieve the objective stated in paragraph 1, I think we must plan on the basis of the following assumptions:

(a) The Shah must necessarily play a key role in the establishment of a new Government.

(b) The Shah will consent to play a key role only on condition that more or less constitutional means are adopted and that he is convinced the contemplated action will have wide popular support.

(c) The course of action must have the support of significant elements in the National Front and among conservative political groups.

(d) The course of action must have the whole-hearted support of the Army, which, because of the Shah’s characteristic indecision, may have to assume the responsibility of initiating the action which will overthrow the old and bring in the new Government.

Recommended Action:

6. Initial Approach to the Shah:

(a) Send Ambassador Allen to Iran in the near future3 under cover of a Middle East Inspection tour to induce the Shah to undertake a care[Page 353]fully planned program to increase his popularity and prestige. The Shah would be told that it is our hope that by increasing his influence he will be able, by constitutional means, to offset the dangerous influence of such extremists as Kashani and thereby not only increase the Government’s stability but also strengthen the Pahlevi dynasty.

(b) The program to increase the Shah’s popularity and prestige should be conducted in such a way as to convince the Iranian public that the Shah is as strongly motivated with respect to reform, oil nationalization, and the elimination of British influence as any Iranian political leader. The objective would be to condition the Iranian public in such a way that in the event of a crisis the public would be as willing to accept the leadership of the Shah as to accept the leadership of Mossadeq, Kashani, or any other leader.

(c) The program would require the following action by the Shah:

(1) A greatly increased number of public appearances and public statements.

(2) Unreserved identification with nationalist aims.

(3) Widely publicized visits to the oil areas, factories, villages, experimental farms, tribal groups, etc.

(4) Determined action to obtain cooperation from other members of royal family in the program and to curb all activity by them impairing the prestige of the dynasty.

(5) While fully supporting Mossadeq (at least initially), determined efforts to cultivate conservative religious, and moderate political, leaders and to strengthen his ties with the Army.

(6) Insofar as possible, avoidance of actions which would give rise to charges of political meddling. However, he should not be intimidated by such charges into abandoning any of the above-listed main features of the program.

7. Covert Support for the Shah’s Program:

(a) The foregoing program conducted by the Shah should be supplemented by a covert CIA program. Every effort should be made [1½ lines not declassified] to increase the Shah’s popularity and prestige and to reduce the influence of such leaders as Kashani, Makki, and Mossadeq. Part of this program will have to be carefully timed since it would be dangerous to reduce influence of Mossadeq before making fairly certain that the Shah’s program was proving successful.

(b) [2 lines not declassified]

8. Official U.S. Policy:

(a) Unless there were real prospects of an oil settlement, every effort should be made on the official level to de-emphasize the oil issue and thus remove the international spot-light from Mossadeq. It is suggested, for instance, that the U.S. and U.K. insist that any further oil discussions be held in London or Washington rather than in Teheran. At the same time it might be advisable for Ambassador Henderson to at[Page 354]tempt to see more of the Shah and less of Mossadeq, although here again (as in paragraph 7(a) timing would be all-important. Moreover, nothing should be done by U.S. officials, after Allen’s visit, to suggest that the U.S. is in any way responsible for the Shah’s actions.

(b) The U.K. should be induced by all possible means to remain as inconspicuous as possible. At the same time an attempt should be made to draw up with the British proposals for an oil settlement which the Shah would be likely to approve.

9. Covert Contact with Army: The Teheran Field Station should establish contact with influential Army leaders. The initial purpose of this operation would be to develop a network within the Army dedicated to maintaining the loyalty of the Army to the Shah. [3 lines not declassified]

10. Intermediate Approach to the Shah:

(a) This approach should be made only after the earlier phases of the program had developed according to plan.

(b) The Shah should be secretly informed what the U.S. and U.K. would be prepared to do in the event a “responsible” Government came to power. He should be informed of the “reasonable” oil settlement already agreed to by the U.S. and U.K., but that the proposals would be communicated only to a “responsible” Government.

(c) He should be informed that in the event a “responsible” Government came to power, it would be provided with emergency aid until an oil settlement could be negotiated.

11. Decisive Action to Establish New Government:

(a) The Shah should be urged to use constitutional prerogative to establish a new Government.

(b) If under suitable circumstances the Shah fails to act, military leaders should be induced to carry out a coup in the Shah’s name, even if they do not have his authority for such action.

(c) As soon as the situation is under control, the Army should turn back to the Shah the responsibility of forming a new Government and directing its policies.

(d) The U.S. and U.K. should scrupulously avoid giving any indication that: (1) they had anything to do with the coup; or (2) they considered the coup a development favoring their interests.

(e) After some weeks a U.S.–Iran loan of substantial proportion should be negotiated and the first installment paid. While the Shah would understand that further installments would be contingent on a satisfactory solution of the oil issue, there should be no public indication that the loan and the oil controversy were in any way connected.

[Page 355]

(f) An oil settlement should be negotiated secretly and implemented only after reform and development programs (as outlined by Mr. Thornburg) were well under way.

John H. Leavitt
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Intelligence, Job 80B01676R, Box 41, Folder 20, Shah of Iran Operations. Secret.
  2. See Documents 117 and 118.
  3. There might be considerable advantage in delaying Allen’s visit until after 4 November, coordinate and obtain approval for the entire program from the President-elect, and provide Allen with a letter to the Shah from the latter. Allen might then indicate to the Shah that the new administration would be fully prepared, when it took office in January, to provide generous assistance to Iran provided the Shah effectively carried out the following program. [Footnote is in the original.]