27. Memorandum for the Record1

Brief Informal Summary of the Points Raised in the Discussion at the 91st Meeting of the National Security Council of the Position of the United States With Respect to Iran

The Secretary of State opened the discussion by informing the Council of the most recent British proposal requesting United States support if the British felt compelled to send military forces into Iran to [Page 90] prevent forcible seizure of the A.I.O.C. by the Iranian Government. The Secretary of State requested the guidance of the President and Council in deciding what course should be followed.

He commenced by explaining that he was unalterably opposed to lending any assistance to the British in the event that they decided to send in troops to take up areas against the legally constituted government of Iran. He believed we should vigorously oppose this British proposal, which was sheer madness. He pointed to the possibility of such a move by the British Government opening the way to a Soviet incursion into Iran by invocation of the treaty between Iran and the Soviet Union, quite apart from the disastrous effect that the British move would have on world opinion.

The Secretary of State indicated, however, that the United States might well support intervention if the Communist (Tudeh) Party attempted to subvert the legal government of Iran.

In general, the members of the Council concurred in the views expressed, but the point was made that we could not afford to be neutral with respect to the controversy between Britain and Iran. We should indeed give vigorous support to the British in reaching an equitable settlement short of any proposal to assist them if they resorted to the use of armed forces against the present Iranian Government.

In this connection it was pointed out that the Iranian Prime Minister and Government had unilaterally broken a contract and that such a breach of contract was not only wrong in itself, but was likely to set an example and precedent which would induce Iraq and other countries to suppose that they could undertake similar unilateral action. This was a highly contagious situation which we should do all in our power to check.

The suggestion was also put forward that if all negotiations on the governmental level failed to produce a reasonable settlement of the oil controversy, it might be possible for private American oil men to act as intermediaries between the British and the Iranians. Such a proposal was strictly confined to the proffer of good offices, it being clearly understood that no one advocated any plan which involved an American oil company taking over the operations of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. If such moves were under consideration by private American business men, it was agreed that they should be discouraged.

It was further pointed out that while the United States Government should eschew the use of force against the present Iranian Government, either unilaterally or along with the British, in preventing seizure of the oil concession, this should not be regarded as constituting a precedent which would prevent the United States ever undertaking the use of military force in certain contingencies in the future. We might actually be compelled under certain circumstances to do so.

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Finally, it was suggested that it would be well to explore the possibility of an agreement between the British and Iranian Governments which would give the oil concession to the Iranian Government as it was demanding, but would continue to permit the British to control the actual distribution of the oil to the consumers in the Western world and prevent the Soviets from securing it.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, Policy Papers, Box 194, NSC–107 (Section 2). Top Secret. There is no drafting information on the summary, which is an enclosure to a memorandum from Executive Secretary Lay to Secretary Acheson, dated May 17, indicating that “the President authorized you to proceed, in connection with the oil nationalization issue in Iran, along the lines proposed by you and discussed by the Council at the meeting (NSC Action No. 473–b).” At this meeting of the National Security Council, the NSC also noted the progress report, dated May 2 (Document 21) submitted by the Under Secretary of State. (National Archives, RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, Official Minutes 1947–1961, Box 13, 91st Meeting)