154. Memorandum From Acting Director of Central Intelligence Dulles to the Under Secretary of State (Smith)1

In connection with your mention of Max Thornburg, I attach as of possible interest a copy of a letter I have just received from him under date of 10 February with regard to Iran.

Following our conversation and one I had with Foster, I have cabled Max Thornburg at Bahrain to inquire as to his plans regarding return and asking whether he could make a visit to the United States at this time if it proved desirable. I have not yet had a reply.

Allen W. Dulles 2

Since dictating the above, I received this morning the following cable from Max Thornburg: “Yours 16th can come anytime after few days if your judgement warrants stop. Would appreciate whatever notice possible also probable duration visit so can rearrange other plans as otherwise not returning USA until early summer. Max.” Shall I ask him to come here?

[Page 444]

Attachment 3

Umm a’Sabaan Island, Bahrain, Persian Gulf, February 10, 1953.

Dear Allen,

I attach no particular importance to the enclosed clipping which represents the views of a certain Mr. McGaffin of London, but it does seem to run uncomfortably close to the thinking in Washington, as well as one can judge by external evidence.4 Because of that apparent parallelism it caught my attention.

According to McGaffin, a “new” development faces us in Persia—new, that is, in December. During these last weeks in office Dean has had revealed to him that Mossedegh is now faced with a struggle between two rival factions—Kashani and Tudeh—as a result of which he might be replaced with someone even less desirable to the West. Dean has therefore remained close to his desk and Loy has rushed home to acquaint Eisenhower (and no doubt Foster) with this disquieting intelligence, and to urge that Mossedegh be supported by us at all costs, even though this means disregarding British views. “They say” that Dean told Eisenhower that the next forty days might mean either peace or war, depending upon events in Tehran.

Accepting this depiction of the good Doctor’s dilemma, what is “new” about it?

Even after we bow McGaffin out, queasy feeling remains that he has been recently in Washington and reports what he observes, there as well as in Tehran, and that Washington has recently discovered the situation and is prepared to meet it resolutely.

You are quite familiar with my views concerning Persia, but just to put my mind at ease—and to keep yours from getting that way—I would like to restate my own appraisal of that situation briefly. You will recognize it as the same appraisal I expressed in Tehran in 1950, to Dean in 1951, to David Bruce in 1952, and to many others throughout that period.

Mossedegh was put into power by the unholy coalition between Kashani and Tudeh in the summer of 1951 following Razmara’s murder and Husain Ala’s brief interregnum. His popularity, based upon the emotional appeal of a skillfully conducted “out-with-all-foreigners” propaganda campaign, and supported by terrorist control of the government, made him the logical compromise candidate of the rival factions, until they were ready to fight it out between themselves. [Page 445] From time to time he has been able to strike out at one or the other of them, where their interests differ, but at no time has he been in a position to move against them both where their interests coincide—as they do in blocking any kind of an oil agreement that might help to restore order and prosperity in the country, which neither of the rival factions wants. Mossedegh just isn’t that kind of a Prime Minister, whatever his personal virtues may be, nor has he ever been. Naguib is, and Shishakly may be, but Mossedegh is not. He is as much a captive as the Shah himself, and as unable to make a deal which would stand up against the opposition of Kashani and Tudeh, or against the anti-alien hostility which he himself has done so much to arouse.

“But that”, the Department would say, “is exactly why we must make the oil agreement—to strengthen him so he can put the rest of his house in order”.

Suppose that we were successful in supporting him to the extent necessary to produce an oil agreement, thereafter supplementing this with aids of various kinds, and a month later he retires or perhaps joins his fathers, one or the other of which may reasonably be expected. We would be right back where we were in 1950—looking for another Razmara.

Anyone who knows the men around Mossedegh as well as I do must know that they are not the kind of men who can carry any practical program through to completion. Fatemi, Kazemi, Makki, Hassibi and the rest are all ineffective political flaneurs. In other words, in backing Mossedegh we are not backing an institution which possesses the quality of continuity apart from the individuals in it, but only a volatile personality that has become the popular symbol of “liberation”. Such symbols don’t have successors.

If we want really to support Mossedegh, not as a symbol but as the effective leader of a movement robust enough to survive the onslaughts of Kashani, Tudeh and other opposing forces, our effort must be to make him part of an institution capable of doing what we have in mind. Unless we are ready to create and support a Republic there (which Persian voting power in the United States hardly warrants) the answer seems to be to accept the institution traditionally and constitutionally represented by the Shah, and make Mossedegh part of that. While he lasts he could be as big a part of it as he wanted to be, and step out when he chooses to with all flags flying, leaving in his place the best man that can be found.

As you know, I am not one of those who regards the Shah as “weak”, but only as young, beaten-down and understandably sceptical about any real support coming from the United States or Britain.

For some time I have not been in a position to know details, but it appears that instead of putting this kind of a proposition up to Mos[Page 446]sedegh we have continued to pester him with the oil agreement—just as though he could make one stick if he wanted to.

The question as I see it is not how to make an oil agreement that will bolster up the government in Persia, but how to bolster up the government in Persia so it can make an oil agreement and then get on with all the other things that need to be done there.

I grant that this might involve 48 hours of tough going for some people—but this seems to be the order of the day, and anyway it would be preferable to the alternative of watching Persia drift behind the Curtain.

As ever,

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Intelligence, Job 80R01731R, Box 13, Folder 563, State. Secret; Security Information.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  3. No classification marking
  4. Not attached.
  5. Printed from a copy with an indication that the original was signed.