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212. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • His Imperial Majesty the ShahinShah of Iran
  • Loy W. Henderson, American Ambassador

At a suggestion made by the Shah several days ago I had an audience with him this morning. In order to guarantee privacy he received me in the Palace garden. Our conversation lasted about 80 minutes.

After the exchange of a few introductory remarks I told him that it was my understanding that he was not certain regarding the British attitude towards himself. I therefore had taken the liberty of making an inquiry in this respect and was in a position to inform him that Mr. Churchill had authorized me to say that the British would be very sorry [Page 576]to see him lose his powers or leave his post or be driven out.2 The Shah seemed to be gratified at this statement. He said that his concern regarding the British attitude had been due primarily to the fact that certain members of the Majlis who were known to maintain close contacts with the British were among those most active in endeavors to curtail the Royal powers. In the past General Frazer had endeavored to persuade him that he should become merely a Constitutional Monarch in the European sense. Ambassador Bullard had taken that position shortly after the Shah had ascended the Throne and successive British Chiefs of Mission including even Middleton had intimated on various occasions that the Shah should keep himself “up in the clouds and avoid taking any part in Iranian political life.” He said that judging from the message from Mr. Churchill the British were changing their attitude with respect to the powers of the Shah. He himself was convinced that, Iran being what it is, the Shah must play a certain role in the political and particularly the military life of the country. If the Shah did not do so confusion and chaos would reign.

The Shah said he must frankly confess that he had not been able to live up to his oath to enforce the Constitution. The Constitution had been openly flouted by the present Government for over a year. Unfortunately he was not in a position to interfere.

I told the Shah that I would like to have a frank statement from him regarding his attitude towards the candidacy of General Zahedi for the Prime Ministership. Was or was not General Zahedi acceptable to the Shah? The Shah replied that he did not consider General Zahedi an intellectual giant nevertheless the General would be acceptable to him as Prime Minister on three conditions: (1) that he would come into power through legal, parliamentary means—not through a coup; (2) that the General would come in with a wide measure of political support—not like Qavam who found himself quite isolated as Prime Minister; (3) that the General would be acceptable to the United States and to the United Kingdom and that either the United States or the United States and the United Kingdom would be prepared almost immediately to give the new government substantial financial and economic aid. If no plans had been made in advance for emergency financial support and for massive economic aid so that the people of the country would see hope of a better life in the not too distant future it would be preferable that there would be no change of government. Razmara had come into power in the belief that he would obtain aid from the United States. This had not materialized, and Razmara was headed for disaster at the time of his assassination. Similarly, any change of government at the [Page 577]present time which was not followed by substantial foreign financial and economic aid would merely be preparing Iran for its ruin.

In response to an inquiry of the Shah I said that I had the impression that the British would welcome a new government headed by General Zahedi. I was also quite confident that the United States Government would welcome such a government provided it was sure that His Majesty would give it his full and sustained support. It would be disastrous for Iran if the United States and British Governments would endeavor to help General Zahedi and then at the last moment would find that the Shah had changed his mind with regard to the General and did not want him to form a government.

The Shah said that he would not change his mind. It was important, however, that the conditions which he had laid down above be clearly understood. If General Zahedi should come in as a result of a coup d’ état he would hesitate to give the General support unless he could become convinced that the General had behind him a strong array of political leaders as well as a considerable popular support.

The Shah said that he did not in any event believe that General Zahedi could come in through a coup. The key positions in the Army were gradually being taken over by friends of Brigadier General Amini, the brother of the Acting Minister of Court. Several months ago the present Acting Minister of Court had endeavored to persuade the Shah to come out openly in support of General Zahedi. Since Amini had become Acting Minister of Court, however, his attitude had changed. He was not maintaining that General Zahedi did not have the qualifications and experience to serve as Prime Minister and was suggesting that it might be better in case the Prime Minister should resign to appoint a “stop-gap rather weak National Front Government” which could later be followed by a strong government. The Shah asked me what I would think of a “stop-gap” government.

I said that it seemed to me it would be extremely difficult to try to ride two horses at the same time. If the present government was to be overthrown its opponents should concentrate on a candidate to succeed Dr. Mosadeq and should not support a candidate half-heartedly while looking around for some alternative weaker candidate to act as a “stop-gap.” The Shah said that he thought there was some truth in my remark nevertheless in view of their strength the Amini group might be able to block General Zahedi.

I told the Shah that I would like for him to repeat for my benefit the statement of his attitude toward General Zahedi since such a statement was needed by the U.S. Government in connection with certain decisions which it would have to make. His Majesty said I could tell the U.S. Government that he would welcome General Zahedi as Prime Minister subject to the conditions which he had already outlined to me.

[Page 578]

I said that it might be extremely difficult for General Zahedi to be brought into power by ordinary Parliamentary methods. For instance if it should become apparent that a majority of the Majlis was opposed to the retention of the present Government, the National Movement Fraction might boycott the Majlis so that it would be impossible to obtain a quorum. The Majlis might therefore be unable to function for an indefinite period and could not vote lack of confidence in Dr. Mosadeq or register inclination for General Zahedi. If, in such an event, a majority of members of the Majlis should send a petition requesting the Majlis to appoint General Zahedi as Prime Minister what would his Majesty do? The Shah replied that he could not answer this question without ascertaining what his powers were under the Constitution. Even if he should find that he had powers in such circumstances to appoint General Zahedi, he would not wish to commit himself in advance since he must make his final decision in the light of the situation of the moment.

The Shah asked me about my recent trip to Karachi to meet Mr. Dulles and also inquired regarding my latest conversations with the Prime Minister. Were there any serious conversations now going on with regard to the oil dispute? Did I believe that the U.S. would purchase any quantity of oil from Iran? Did I think that there was any possibility that the U.S. would extend substantial economic assistance to Iran under a Mosadeq Government? I informed the Shah that the U.S. was no longer acting as intermediary between the U.K. and Iran in the matter of the oil dispute. So far as I knew no effort was being made at the present time to effect a settlement of the oil problem. I did not believe in the foreseeable future, in the absence of a solution of the compensation problem, that the U.S. would purchase any substantial quantity of Iranian oil. I thought that it would be extremely difficult for the U.S. to give substantial financial or economic assistance to the Mosadeq Government in the absence of a solution of the compensation problem.

I asked the Shah whether in his opinion: (a) Further efforts should be made to find a solution for the compensation problem while Dr. Mosadeq remained as Prime Minister and (b) whether in the absence of such a solution the U.S. should extend financial and economic assistance to a Mosadeq Government?

The Shah replied that he was still of the opinion that it would be easier to effect a settlement of the oil problem with Dr. Mosadeq than with any successor to Dr. Mosadeq. He also thought that Dr. Mosadeq could make a settlement more advantageous to the British than that which any successor might make. He realized that it was extremely difficult to deal with Dr. Mosadeq. Nevertheless any avenue which might lead towards a settlement of the oil dispute with Dr. Mosadeq should not be ignored. Even if an attempt at such a settlement might result in [Page 579]Dr. Mosadeq’s remaining in power somewhat longer, it should be made if there was any possibility whatsoever for success.

The Shah also said that the present economic position of Iran is so dangerous that he would like to see the U.S. give financial and economic assistance to the country even though Dr. Mosadeq was still in power and even though the extension of that assistance might make it appear that the U.S. was supporting Dr. Mosadeq.

The Shah asked me if I did not agree that it would be advantageous to settle the oil dispute, if possible, with Dr. Mosadeq. I said that I had always believed this to be true. I was beginning to feel, however, that there was no chance of any oil settlement so long as Dr. Mosadeq was Prime Minister. The British had come to the conclusion that it was useless to deal with Dr. Mosadeq. If, therefore, the oil problem was to be settled while Dr. Mosadeq was Prime Minister it seemed to me that he must take the initiative in making concrete proposals of a character which would cause the British to believe that he was serious. After the experiences of the last two years it would not be easy for Dr. Mosadeq to convince the British that he really wished to be a party to a fair and reasonable settlement of the oil dispute.

The Shah said that he wished to be frank with me and with the U.S. Government. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia was planning to visit Iran in the early part of July. If the situation remained as it is at present, it was the intention of the Shah to go abroad shortly after the departure of the Crown Prince. It was too humiliating for him to remain in Iran in present circumstances. He was referring particularly to his relationship with the Army. He no longer was receiving reports with regard to what was going on in the Army and Army officers no longer dared to visit him. This was intolerable. He would prefer therefore not to be in Iran under such conditions. He hoped that the U.S. Government would not change its attitude with respect to him if he left the country for a period. He was of the opinion that it would be better for him and better for Iran for him to be abroad than for him to remain in the country in circumstances which were certain seriously to undermine his prestige and to lower him in the esteem of the nation.

I told the Shah that in my opinion his departure from the country would be interpreted as a sign of weakness and defeat. Nevertheless a decision of this kind was one for him to make. I was confident that the U.S. Government which regarded his presence in Iran as a factor of stability for the country would regret his departure. The Shah said that before he left the country he would let the U.S. Government know that he had definitely decided to get out.

The Shah said that Mr. Amini, the Acting Minister of Court, would be certain to question him regarding our conversation. It was probable also that Mosadeq would try to obtain certain information from me in [Page 580]this regard. His suggestion was that he inform Amini in the utmost confidence that I had told him about my visit to Karachi and my conversation with Mr. Dulles and that I had indicated to him that there seemed to be little chance in present circumstances of a settlement of the compensation problem. He would go on to tell Amini that he had said that, in his opinion, it would be much easier for a settlement of the oil dispute to be effected with Dr. Mosadeq than with some subsequent Prime Minister and that he had expressed to me the hope that if it should prove impossible to achieve an oil settlement, the Government of the United States would nevertheless give sufficient economic and financial assistance to Iran to enable it to pass through its present economic crisis.

Loy W. Henderson
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 788.00/5–3053. Top Secret; Security Information. Drafted by Henderson, who provided a summary of this conversation in telegram 4573 from Tehran, May 30, which is printed with redactions in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. X, Iran, 1951–1954, pp. 730–732 (Document 329). The memorandum is attached to a covering letter to Byroade, May 30, in which Henderson wrote that “the character of my conversation was so confidential that I do not wish to describe it either in a telegram or a despatch.”
  2. See the attachment to Document 210.