350. Letter From the First Secretary of Embassy in Iran (Melbourne) to the Officer in Charge of Iranian Affairs, Office of Greek, Turkish, and Iranian Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs (Stutesman)1

Dear John:

The ideas that you clearly expressed in your letter of November 6 have, as you may imagine, been upon our minds as well.2 It is indeed a knotty question as to how far our responsibility goes in Iranian internal affairs and the extent to which we should interfere in them. While it is true we have become involved in Iranian internal affairs to a great extent and cannot pull out of them entirely, it does seem that we should resolve not to get into them any deeper and to withdraw at least partially from what we may be doing on a tactical basis.

The peculiar environment of Iran and its propensity for sudden changes would appear to justify as the most feasible general policy one of exerting maximum pressures on vital issues and not in individual tactical moves and intrigues which might destroy our usefulness and waste our influence. To illustrate this, we do not think that we should try to prescribe who should be in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, since we could not expect to understand the full ramifications of such appointments and the pressures upon a Prime Minister inducing him to make them. However, if we felt required to do so, we could point out to a Prime Minister (and that only so long as our Military, FOA and other aid are being received) that he needed some men of stature and experience to give tone and capacity to his Cabinet, which under particular circumstances it might not have. The important thing seems to us to be that with the leverage we have through our aid we can employ a loose rein on particulars and a tight one on basic policies.

Any attempt to build American directed organizations, no matter how indirect the direction, within state institutions and outside, is bound to be discovered and consequently suspected. Roger, for example, can give you the details as to the difficulties we ran into with the Shah through our support of the Workers’ Party and then of Maleki’s Third Force because they were publicly anti-communist. It became known to the Shah that we were giving the support, even at a time when these organizations were critical of him. This served to encourage [Page 852] his suspicions that the United States was supporting Mosadeq as against him, thus reenforcing his innate irresolution. This is an example of how one of our worthy objectives may help stymie another. There is also a potential future complication in that Baqai and Maleki may never believe, if we are not going along with them, that we are not covertly supporting others.

All this is a preliminary to the points that you make as potential targets of our activity:

1. Army. With the continued operation of the military advisory and aid missions, as well as the Gendarmérie mission, we believe that there will be created through this very activity an ever-expanding influence in the armed forces that will be to our advantage without the necessity of creating a formal cadre organization. Such influence, as you rightly say, is priority number one, and we think that it can only be maintained through the activities and presence of these missions.

2. Government. We agree with you that covert sources need not concentrate upon high level Government officials, since when they reach this point they are subject to the influences you describe. It is only through the overt association with responsible American officials, such as the Ambassador and his representatives with whom they are in contact at the time, that they can be generally most influenced in our behalf. By continuing to build upon the essential Persian confidence in the basic goodwill of the United States toward their country and of Iran’s material interests in cooperating with the United States we should have a strong position through which to influence both Persian politicians and bureaucrats. It would be only sensible that we put in a good word as the opportunity offers to further the careers of those basically friendly to us and the democratic point of view. At the same time, the Persian mentality being what it is, if one expects a man to be signed up for life as pro-American on the basis of material advantages from both overt and covert types of operations, you will not secure those who in the long-run will reflect credit upon us and, instead, they may even become suspected by their own people.

3. Majlis. We think the last thing we should do would be to try to create a Majlis party drawing political influence from a tie with American officials. The same arguments apply here as given previously. We believe, for example, that in any elections in this country, if our own policies stay on course, there will always be a sizeable group of deputies who will be friendly toward us, with whom we can talk and influence through our counsel, and who would be more willing to take that counsel without it being given under the handicap of directives from the American Embassy.

4. Potential Opposition. Penetration of communist and extremist groups, of course, is extremely important for covert intelligence. At the [Page 853] same time to sponsor a potential opposition to Zahedi we think would be a serious error. It would become eventually known, would encourage the Shah to intrigue against the Prime Minister, and would paralyze the latter’s actions as well through becoming known to him. By keeping on the best of terms with all pro-democratic and friendly political groupings, as is our job and is perfectly feasible, we should be able to accomplish our general objectives. Zahedi himself could take no offense at such activities nor could they properly be interpreted as designed to undermine him. We need not be inextricably tied to only one arrow in the quiver of Persian politicians.

5. Tribes. We should, of course, maintain relations with the tribes, but we think here those relations should not be at the expense of disrupting our essential objectives in Iran.

FOA, through the TCI program for example, is being adequately employed now in building up through actual performance a powerful weapon in influencing Iranians simply by continuing to do a good job. The TCI people are well acquainted with people and attitudes in their respective regions, and are making friends for the United States. As sources of information they can continue to be tapped, but we honestly do not believe TCI can contribute anything in the provinces beyond what it is actually doing in behalf of American policies. The intelligent use of our TCI programs and of FOA economic aid can be further integrated into our political objectives, and I think this can be done through continued Embassy–FOA liaison in operations and planning.

Both the Ambassador and Bill Rountree have seen and approve this letter.

All the best.


Roy M. Melbourne3
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 788.00/11–3053. Top Secret; Security Information.
  2. Document 345.
  3. Melbourne signed “Roy” above his typed signature.