23. Despatch From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1

No. 899

Transmitting a Memorandum Entitled “Estimate of the Political Strength of the Mossadeq Government”.

There is transmitted herewith for the consideration of the Department a memorandum entitled “Estimate of the Political Strength of the Mossadeq Government” which has been prepared by Mr. Stutesman and Mr. Cuomo of the Embassy staff.

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I am confident that the Department will find the enclosed memorandum of considerable interest. The enigmatic Dr. Mosadeq is to exert considerable influence in Iran in the immediate future. The skill with which he conducts the affairs of the government, and the political course which he follows will probably determine the future not only of the vitally important oil resources of this country, but perhaps of the country itself.

Mosadeq is a dramatic demagogue who appears to be without particular wisdom or background for government. These very factors make his presence at the head of the government especially important. He has qualities which, while not commending him to the world, may establish his place firmly in the minds of the people as a popular leader.

I am inclined to doubt the statement in the memorandum that Mosadeq “has the confidence of the majority of Iranians”. The majority of the Iranians are illiterate and uninformed and are concerned only with their daily living. Inside the principal towns the name of Mosadeq is probably little better known than was that of Razmara, Mansour, or Saleh. It is nevertheless true that Dr. Mosadeq does command a large following of the more articulate in the cities and from this he derives his strength.

For the time being we should, I believe, show a willingness positively to cooperate with the Mosadeq Government, as is suggested in the concluding paragraphs of the memorandum. The Ambassador intends to follow this policy unless the Department instructs to the contrary.

For the Ambassador:

Arthur L. Richards

Counselor of Embassy



It seems appropriate at this time to make an estimate of the situation in Iran and of the political strength of the Mosadeq Government. From this estimate it may be possible also to perceive some indications of further developments, although this paper will not go into that aspect of the future.

The resignation of Prime Minister Hosein Ala and the advent of Mohammed Mosadeq to power have been adequately described elsewhere. At the present Dr. Mosadeq and his cabinet are only establishing themselves and, also for the present, the choice of the Prime Minister and his cabinet appears to please many sections of the Iranian [Page 82] public although for different reasons, some of which are described below.

Any estimate of the political strength of the Mosadeq Government must take cognizance of the wide speculation current in Tehran regarding the length of time which the Prime Minister will be able to retain power. Speculation ranges from a week to many months tenure of office. But all such conjecture must balance the forces at play about the new Government.

The sources of strength which are available to Prime Minister Mosadeq of course depend on his physical ability to survive the arduous task of leading an Iranian Government. Dr. Mosadeq is in his seventies and also was ill last winter to an extent that he could not come to Majlis sessions for a period. His fainting spells, which have never been diagnosed to Embassy satisfaction as either solely political or entirely medical manifestations, are still with him since he fainted twice on May 3rd, once while visiting a prison and reminiscing on his own incarceration and once when some flowers and compliments were pressed upon him by a crowd of admirers. However, if his health holds out it can be stated that the following sources of strength may be utilized to keep him in power.

Primary among these sources of strength is popular support. This is not an easy factor to describe in this country of illiterate people who have few political aspirations and are so deeply concerned in barely sustaining their existence. However, for the first time in many years a Prime Minister is in power who has the confidence of the majority of Iranians and himself believes that his primary function is “to close the gap between the Government and the people which has been the historic cause for discontent in the past”, a phrase he used in speaking to the Ambassador on May 2nd.

Secondly, he may use the oil issue for his own benefit since he can conceivably extend to any political issue today his claim that an attack on Mosadeq is an attack on the best interests of the people. Concurrently he can accuse his critics of being pro-British by being anti-Mosadeq. Also in this connection Dr. Mosadeq may well be the only politician in Iran today who might make a deal with the British to settle the oil question on a practical basis which it increasingly appears must include British personnel continuing to man the oil fields and refinery. Only Dr. Mosadeq might be able to accomplish this without bringing a general accusation of treason on his head. His stand against foreign influence in Iran and particularly his well known leadership in the struggle to nationalize the AIOC has given him a good vantage point from which to work in settling this outstanding and delicate matter. Already there are straws in the wind showing the Prime Minister’s interest in bringing the matter to some conclusion, for on May 3rd he sent [Page 83] emissaries to the British Embassy, as Counselor Middleton described it “to feel us out as to the next move”. This may be considered a move of the Prime Minister’s to establish a framework for negotiations with the British.

Further, Prime Minister Mosadeq is an experienced politician and he has taken a cautious approach to the major issues of the day which could bring him opposition. His program as announced on presentation of his Government to the Majlis contained only two points on which there could conceivably be Majlis debate, and both these points—execution of nationalization of the oil industry and revision of the electoral law—were couched in terms which allowed no immediate opposition. His strategy in choosing a cabinet which has been called already by one newspaper a “national union cabinet” was apparently built to prevent controversy with the Majlis. It is deliberately not a National Front cabinet. Another move in this cautious line of avoiding open dissatisfaction in the Majlis was Dr. Mosadeq’s first step to implement his long sought program of seeking electoral reform by calling for representatives of the Fractions of the Majlis to meet with the cabinet ministers concerned, in working out an acceptable electoral reform. He has avoided the open fighting on the Majlis floor which holds such dangers for any Government.

Finally, there is presently real support for Prime Minister Mosadeq in the ranks of the National Front coalition which, if it holds together in this support, can materially assist him in the Majlis and before the people. Although National Front Deputies are not entering the cabinet they have demonstrated their support for their erstwhile Majlis leader. Even leftist Deputies Azad and Haerizadeh on May Day urged the workers to heed and support the Mosadeq Government.

However, there are many factors present in the situation today which may work to bring about the downfall of the Mosadeq Government.

First of all is the character of the man himself. His emotions under stress have been demonstrated. He is more used to opposing than governing, and although he has held some administrative posts in the past his abilities to administer such complicated problems as face the Prime Minister today are doubtful. His age and recent ill health also leave him weak in face of these tremendous burdens, administration and leadership. Finally, and it may be, most dangerously, he has not shown a clear perception of the problems facing Iran and his solutions as presented in the Majlis and to the Ambassador on May 2nd are notably vague and ill-defined in detail. Possibly this has been deliberate political shrewdness but it might be disastrous if he continues such a vague approach to future problems.

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Internal political forces which may defeat the Mosadeq program certainly include the reactionaries who can be expected to oppose vigorously any social or economic reform program. The Court and the Parliament represent landed and wealthy interests who will resist any attacks on their prerogatives or profits. Already several representatives of the Court and old line political circles have indicated delight that Mosadeq is Prime Minister because he must now wrestle with the problems which he previously forced on the Government. Close candidate for Premiership, Seyid Zia, on the day that Mosadeq’s appointment was announced, gleefully told an Embassy officer that he was very pleased at this development which would remove Mosadeq from the Majlis and surely cause him to fall on his face while Prime Minister. The Shah reportedly indicated to a British Embassy source on May 3rd that Dr. Mosadeq’s stay in power was not expected to continue for a long time.

If Dr. Mosadeq fails to correct the ancient evils of oppressive Government and economic woes he will lose much popular support and increase popular disappointment and cynicism. Distrust and dislike of Government is deep-rooted in Iran and even a popular hero like Dr. Mosadeq will have difficulty in overcoming this, even without the added problems of possible loss of oil revenues and lack of U.S. economic aid. He has emphasized his concern in this regard and his strong desire to have an economic program for the alleviation of popular discontent.

The leftist part in the picture is not yet clear. Several National Front Deputies who were close to Mosadeq represent a radical leftist approach to politics. Their brand of political action will probably be pressed on Mosadeq who may be forced to take such action which will split his National Front supporters, presently a coalition of radical and moderate elements, into opposing elements.

In summary, while there are many forces which may well work to bring the downfall of this Mosadeq Government it is not inevitable that it will fall in the immediate future. Further, it is entirely possible that a complete failure of the Mosadeq Government to implement the social program which the nation so evidently expects will be blamed on the reactionaries and the British and possibly on us. His utter failure might drive numbers of presently moderate Iranian liberals, discontented with further abortive attempts to improve conditions within the existing frame work of Government, to seek alliance with the Communists in achieving reforms through drastic means.

It may well be advisable for the United States to indicate support of the Mosadeq Government. By increasing Dr. Mosadeq’s confidence in U.S. efforts to assist Iran we may well bring his Government to cooperate in implementing our programs here. His aims, while presently [Page 85] vague in definition and detail, are basically similar to ours in removing economic and political causes for discontent which allow present opportunities for Communist activity. Furthermore, by developing cooperation with Mosadeq we may be able to guide him toward working out an equitable settlement on the oil question in negotiation with the British. Further, our assistance and advice can surely help him to gain a clearer understanding of present issues in Iran and their complications. Our support, advice and possibly economic assistance could also contribute towards maintaining Dr. Mosadeq free from domination of the radical leftist elements which have had some influence on him in the past.

It is quite conceivable that if we play our cards right we can exert real influences over Dr. Mosadeq, whose Government might well be able to assist our aims in Iran. It certainly does not appear advisable to refuse cooperation or to accept a policy of waiting for him to demonstrate alone whether he can remain in power.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 788.00/5–451. Secret. Drafted by Richards. Attachment drafted by Stutesman and Cuomo. Sent by pouch.