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

No. 245

SUBJECT

  • Official Conversation With Dr. Mozaffar Baqai

There is enclosed for the Department’s information a memorandum of conversation which I had recently with Dr. Mozaffar Baqai who has been the leading open critic of the Zahedi Government. While the memorandum of conversation is self-explanatory, my purposes in the course of the meeting were to ascertain Dr. Baqai’s point of view toward the Zahedi Government and toward the United States and Great Britain, on the one hand, and to make clear to him the policies and view of the United States, on the other.

Loy W. Henderson
Ambassador
[Page 814]

Attachment

Memorandum of Conversation

PARTICIPANTS

  • Loy W. Henderson, Ambassador
  • Dr. Mozaffar Baqai, Deputy to the 17th Majlis
  • Mr. Roy M. Melbourne, First Secretary of Embassy
  • Mr. Joseph H. Cunningham, Third Secretary

Dr. Baqai came to tea at the Residence at the invitation of the Ambassador about 6 p.m. on October 23. After the Ambassador and Baqai had exchanged assurances that they would speak with complete candor regarding their views on Iran’s problems, the Ambassador asked Baqai to outline his estimate of and attitude toward the Zahedi Government and its performance to date.

As a preface to his remarks, Dr. Baqai observed that his political fate was inevitably closely allied to that of the new Government. He had a long record of opposition to Mosadeq, had supported Zahedi for some time, had defended him publicly at the time of his arrest in 1952, and had helped bring the General to power. Thus, regardless of the fact that he had not sought or been offered influence or position in the new Government, its success would redound in the public mind to his credit and its failure would be considered in some measure his failure.

Dr. Baqai said that he was frankly disturbed and disappointed by the General’s record so far. He explained that whereas Zahedi could have picked for his Cabinet trustworthy though politically unknown officials or military men in whom he had confidence, he had instead appointed a group of politicians of long standing, whose inefficiency and corruption and whose records as tools of Great Britain or Soviet Russia were known to all. As a result, the people who brought Zahedi to power in a violent reaction against the Mosadeq Government and who had hoped for a new and more honest regime were disturbed and indignant at the General’s choice of ministers.

Baqai pointed out that Mosadeq had come to power on a wave of popularity unmatched in Iran’s history and had begun his term of office with virtually no opposition. In two years, however, his ineptitude and the misdeeds of his ministers and subordinates had incited the people to the violent overthrow of his regime. Zahedi, on the other hand, came to power with three ready-made foci of opposition: the Tudeh party, which as the core of Communist sentiment in Iran necessarily attacks his every movement; the Mosadeq partisans, who are in[Page 815]evitably trying to frustrate and discredit the man who overthrew their leader; and the elements who oppose in principle any Government headed by a military man.2

Dr. Baqai commented in passing that in normal times he would oppose the selection of a military man as premier. In view of the present crisis, however, and in view of the fact that he himself had no desire to assume the reins of Government and could see at present no alternative to Zahedi, he had supported the General in his bid for power. Now, however, he found himself in a very embarrassing situation, as he could neither support, oppose, nor remain indifferent to the Zahedi regime. He could not grant it support because it was acting contrary to his expressed principles, was returning to power long-discredited politicians and was committing all over again the mistakes of the Mosadeq Government. He could not oppose it, because he had helped bring it to power and could only turn against it at the cost of admitting he had made a mistake in preferring Zahedi to Mosadeq; furthermore, opposition to Zahedi would merely play into Communist hands. Finally, he could not remain silent and profess indifference to the Zahedi Government because his followers would ask him why he failed to criticize the new Government when it repeated the mistakes of the old.

Dr. Baqai went on to say that Iranian and United States policies coincided most closely in the matter of their identical opposition to Communism and Communistic infiltration. Unfortunately, in this regard as in others, the Zahedi Government’s performance has been worse than poor. Of the 4,000 persons imprisoned as suspected Communists, some 30 per cent are entirely innocent. Furthermore, the remainder who are either Tudeh party members or Communist sympathizers include only rank and file members and insignificant minor functionaries; not a single member of the Central Committee of the Party,3 not a single important Communist writer or pamphleteer, not a single leading party organizer has been imprisoned. Instead of weakening the Communist party in Iran, the Government’s inept performance is actually strengthening it; so long as the leaders remain free they can always attract new dupes and sympathizers to replace those whom the Government imprisons, while many of the innocent men arrested on one pretext or another by the security forces become embittered by the injustice of their treatment and turn to Communism for revenge.

Baqai emphasized that Communism, being an ideology, could not be overcome by force alone, and pointed out that the Government was even using force, its only weapon, incorrectly. While innocent men are [Page 816]arrested at the whim of a police officer or Government functionary or in the hope that they might pay a ransom for their release, the guilty are all too often securing release or immunity from arrest by bribery or by influence. In some cases politicians apparently seek to prepare for the eventuality of a Communist regime in Iran by protecting from imprisonment Communist party functionaries. These men obviously fail to realize that, without exception, politicians who followed their example in countries now behind the Iron Curtain have been liquidated along with the rest by the Communist regime.

At this point Baqai said that he could if necessary cite numerous examples to support his allegations. He mentioned the case of Ali Ashgar Hekmat, Minister in the Zahedi Government Cabinet, who has a long record of service to the British cause and who in recent years has become increasingly involved in Iran’s Soviet cultural activities. Hekmat’s brother, a professor at Tehran University and an active Tudeh party member, is and will remain immune from arrest because of his brother’s position. There have been, in fact, only three important party functionaries arrested since the inauguration of the Zahedi regime and all three of them were released within 48 hours of their arrest.4

At this point Ambassador Henderson asked Dr. Baqai if his dissatisfaction with the Zahedi Government resulted from fundamental disagreement on policy grounds or merely from disappointment in Zahedi’s implementation of his policies. He went on to point out that in order to correct abuses and errors which Baqai had detailed, the Government would need an honest and efficient police force, which it did not at present have and which would be difficult and time-consuming to develop. The Ambassador asked Baqai just what he would do to improve the situation and wondered whether he felt that the Zahedi Government was willfully mishandling its anti-Communist campaign or merely falling into error through ineptitude and inexperience.

Baqai affirmed his support of Zahedi’s announced policies but stated that what really counted was the way these policies were being carried out and that it was in this connection that he differed with General Zahedi. He conceded that Zahedi’s personal aims were undoubtedly commendable and that he was attempting to pursue an effective anti-Communist campaign, but contended that such attempts were [Page 817]largely vitiated by the corrupt and venal politicians who surround him. He felt that, since his own Workers’ Party had extensive information regarding the Communist organization leadership and activities in Iran, the Security Forces undoubtedly had much more complete information, as well as the means to use this information in suppressing the party and disrupting its organization. Citing his five years of active opposition to Communism, Baqai stated that this experience made him one of the best qualified men in Iran to discuss Communist activities and the best ways of combating them. Several times in this presentation, Baqai affirmed that he had made his position clear to General Zahedi and that the General agreed with his estimate of the situation but was prevented by his entourage from acting effectively.

When Baqai had completed his commentary on the Zahedi Government, the Ambassador asked him for his views on the recent statement by Foreign Minister Anthony Eden of Great Britain regarding the necessity for free intercourse between Iran and Britain and the desirability of re-establishing diplomatic relations.5 The Ambassador pointed out that General Zahedi had emphasized Iran’s desire to be on friendly terms with all countries, and asked Dr. Baqai’s reaction to this statement. Baqai said that he certainly agreed in principle6 with Zahedi’s stand and felt that diplomatic relations with Great Britain should by all means be re-established. However such recognition must be proceeded by at least the beginnings of an oil settlement in order to prevent the British from using their diplomatic mission to foist upon Iran an unfair settlement and to exercise again improper influence on the internal affairs of the country.

The Ambassador then turned to the concept of an oilless economy for Iran, which Dr. Baqai’s newspaper Shahed has advocated editorially on a number of occasions. He asked the Deputy if he really believed that in present circumstances such an economy was desirable or even feasible. Obtaining the Ambassador’s permission to explain his stand in some detail, Baqai launched into an explanation of the history and background of his advocacy of an oilless economy.

When the 16th Majlis was elected some four years ago and the national movement first came into prominence, one of the movement’s major objectives as listed in Shahed was the settlement of the oil question. By this, Baqai explained, he meant the reaching of an understanding with the AIOC if that company were willing to grant Iran a fair share of the proceeds from its oil; otherwise, he advocated eviction of the British and nationalization of the oil industry. British intransigence unfortunately aroused public anger in Iran to such a pitch that [Page 818]many people came to feel that they wanted no part either of the AIOC or of the oil industry; in other words, they wanted to be rid of the oil question completely. In line with this public feeling, Baqai had advocated and still defended the oilless economy as an alternative to the surrender of Iran’s legitimate rights and the compromising of her national honor. Although he felt that if possible Iran should profit from her oil resources, he feared that the only way that Britain would allow it to do so would be on the basis of a 50–50 division of profits, which would be completely unacceptable to the Iranian people. Rather than accept such a shameful settlement, he believed Iran should forget her oil and turn to other sources of revenue.7

The Ambassador thanked Dr. Baqai for his frank and detailed presentation of his views and said that his comments had been most helpful and revealing. He then stated his intention to explain with equal frankness and in some detail his own estimate, and what he believed to be the United States Government’s estimate, of Iran’s situation with regard to the oil problem. Prefacing his remarks with a summation of the long-standing struggle among the Great Powers for influence in Iran, the Ambassador pointed out that the United States, in contrast, wanted nothing from Iran and desired merely to preserve the independence and promote the prosperity of its people. Although certainly activated in part by self-interest in this matter, the United States desired neither territory nor profit nor political influence in Iran. It was no longer possible in the present world situation for Iran to seek advantages by playing one great power against another as it had done so long in the past. At this rather pointed comment on the traditional Iranian policy which Baqai’s party has often advocated, the Deputy made no reply.

Ambassador Henderson then went on to outline the world petroleum situation as it is today, emphasizing that present production was more than adequate to meet world needs and that only through cooperation among a number of the major oil companies of the globe could Iran’s oil be distributed in appreciable quantities. He emphasized that the sale of any Iranian oil would necessitate a corresponding reduction in the production of other Middle Eastern countries, any one of which could produce enough petroleum to satisfy the entire world demand for Middle Eastern oil.

The Ambassador emphasized that, in view of these facts, Iran could not expect to obtain a better price for its oil than the other countries of the region. In his view, the best solution would involve a provision akin to a most-favored-nation clause whereby Iran would be sure [Page 819]to receive as high a proportionate revenue from its petroleum as would the other oil-producing countries. Pointing out that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq had all increased their production of oil in recent years, the Ambassador suggested that such a most-favored-nation clause would permit Iran to increase her revenue from oil at the same pace as her sister nations. Were such a provision to go into effect, it was likely that both the AIOC and Iran itself might lose much of their interest in the question of compensation.

Underlining the extreme urgency of the situation, the Ambassador stated that either foreign economic aid such as now proffered by the United States or sizable oil revenues were absolutely essential to the Iranian economy if it was to avoid complete bankruptcy. The emergency aid program now under way had five more months to run; at the end of that time Iran must find some other source of revenue.8 Although personally willing if necessary to ask his Government for additional aid for Iran, the Ambassador felt very sure that, unless important steps had been taken in the direction of an oil settlement, the United States Congress would refuse to extend further assistance. Rightly or wrongly, the American people would feel that a country which apparently did nothing to utilize its own resources did not deserve support from abroad.9

At the close of the Ambassador’s presentation, Dr. Baqai said that he thanked the Ambassador for his frankness and agreed in substance with his estimate of the situation. However, he felt it necessary to point out that the people of Iran must be psychologically prepared for an oil agreement with Great Britain and that the real economic and political reasons for such an agreement would have to be sugar-coated in order to make them palatable to an uninformed public. He suggested that when the United States decided for reasons of political or military necessity to intervene in Korea it had had to profess high-sounding and possibly fictitious reasons for its action; in the same manner, the Iranian Government could not be completely frank with its people as to the necessity for and the reasons behind an oil settlement.10

The Ambassador took sharp issue with Baqai’s comments regarding the Korean intervention and emphasized that the United States had acted solely in order to resist Communist aggression and to keep its word to the free world. Baqai then modified his statement some[Page 820]what, conceding that possibly the United States Government’s explanation of its action had not been given proper publicity in Iran, but reiterated his contention that in his country and particularly in the case of the oil question considerable psychological preparation of the people was necessary.

Further detailing his position, Baqai stated that his party served as a screen between the Communist Party and Iranians dissatisfied with their country’s present situation. This was because the Worker’s Party advocates many of the reforms demanded by the Tudeh without insisting that they be carried out within the framework of Communism. Many Iranian intellectuals, however, stood somewhere between the Worker’s Party and the Communists, and in order to attract these individuals towards him and away from the Tudeh, Baqai had found it necessary to profess on occasions a neutralism which he did not feel.11 Pointing out that these intellectuals, if forced to chose between Britain and Russia, would invariably turn toward the Soviet Union, and that American policy in recent years had led them to suspect the United States of collusion with British interests, Baqai stated that he was forced to oppose the United States in print from time to time in order to avoid the accusation of pro-Americanism and to preserve his hold over the intellectual element, which he considered to be of the highest importance.

The Ambassador commented that he would have no grounds to complain if Baqai out of honest conviction would criticize the United States or United States policies. He thought, however, it would be unworthy of a statesman to criticize a country trying to help Iran merely for the purpose of trying to strengthen his political party.12 At this critical period of Iran’s history, it behooved such leaders of public opinion as Dr. Baqai to assert their leadership to the fullest on behalf of Iran’s interests and to explain the situation fully and frankly to their supporters and constituents. By professing for reasons of political convenience opinions which he did not hold, Dr. Baqai made it impossible for the members of his party and their sympathizers to know precisely where he stood; furthermore, he deprived them of the benefit of his informed judgment and leadership.

To these remarks Baqai merely reiterated his opinion that the Iranian people could not be dragooned into supporting an oil settlement and must be prepared psychologically over a period of time for any [Page 821]agreement. He pointed out that General Zahedi, an honest but idealistic and therefore dangerous13 military man, seemed to believe it possible to obtain by means of rigged elections a Majlis which would approve any oil settlement which he might propose. This, he felt, was a great mistake, since the only way that approval of a lasting oil settlement could be obtained was by electing in a free and legal manner a truly representative Majlis once the country had been properly prepared for this move. To the Ambassador’s observation that regardless of the feeling of the Iranian people there were only five months left in which to act, Baqai had no rejoinder.

The interview terminated with the Ambassador and Dr. Baqai exchanging thanks for each party’s frank and complete presentation. Before leaving at approximately 9 p.m., Dr. Baqai professed his readiness to discuss the oil question further with the Ambassador at the latter’s convenience.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 788.00/10–3053. Secret; Security Information. Received November 15. The despatch was drafted by Melbourne. The attached memorandum of conversation was drafted by Cunningham. A copy was sent to London.
  2. Richards highlighted this sentence.
  3. Richards underlined the phrase “not a single member of the Central Committee of the Party.”
  4. According to Baqai the three men in question were Engineer Ansari, a former functionary in the Ministry of Finance and a candidate member of the Central Committee of the Party; Davoud Noruzi, major Communist writer, and one Hormoz, a lawyer. Ansari secured his release through the influence of a relative of his, whose name and governmental position Baqai had forgotten for the moment but could find out if necessary; the other two, he thought, had probably bribed some officials to obtain their freedom. [Footnote is in the original.]
  5. See Document 331.
  6. Richards underlined the phrase “Baqai said that he certainly agreed in principle.”
  7. Richards highlighted and placed his initials in the margin next to this sentence.
  8. Richards underlined the phrase “at the end of that time Iran must find some other source of revenue.”
  9. The preceding four paragraphs are highlighted and the comment “Lovely” was written in an unidentified hand in the margin.
  10. The last sentence in this paragraph was highlighted with a comment in the margin: “What an S.O.B.”
  11. Richards underlined the phrase “a neutralism which he did not feel.” In the margin is the handwritten word “Nuts!”
  12. Richards underlined the phrase “unworthy of a statesman to criticize a country trying to help Iran merely for the purpose of trying to strengthen his political party” and wrote in the margin “a thrust that hurt Baqai!”
  13. Richards underlined the phrase “therefore dangerous” and wrote a question mark in the margin.