Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Iran, 1951–1954
352. Despatch From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1
- Embassy Despatch 245 of October 30, 19532
- Official Conversation With Dr. Mozafar Baqai
There is enclosed for the Department’s information a memorandum of conversation of another conversation which I had recently with Dr. Mozafar Baqai who has been the leading open critic of the Zahedi Government. While, as in the previous instance, the memorandum of conversation is self-explanatory, my purposes in attending this recent meeting were to learn Dr. Baqai’s current points of view towards the Zahedi Government, the United States, the Iranian resumption of relations with Great Britain, and upon the oil question. Similarly, I wished to express to him clearly the policies and points of view of the United States.
Memorandum of Conversation
- Ambassador Henderson
- Mr. Roy M. Melbourne, First Secretary of Embassy
- Dr. Baqai, Leader of Workers’ Party
- Mr. Christian Chapman, Third Secretary of Embassy
At the request of Dr. Baqai, leader of the Workers’ Party, Ambassador Henderson received him on the evening of December 4, 1953. The conversation was carried on in French, which the Doctor speaks quite fluently, and lasted three hours.
Baqai excused himself to have to give a lengthy introduction in order to explain clearly his position.
Everyone agreed, he said, that Iran was a sick country. Most generally this sickness is ascribed to a lack of education, or a lack of hygiene, or to malnutrition, or to other similar causes. However, the more he and his collaborators studied the problem, the more they became convinced that the real problem lay in the psychology of despair which grips the people. Iranians have lost hope for the future. This, according to Dr. Baqai, is the real issue and it is to combat this mentality and attitude that he organized his party. He feels he has been partially successful in accomplishing this end. While previously all those who were actively discontented with things as they were joined the Tudeh party, more and more have come to join his. Thus, his party has acted as a screen against the Tudeh.
His position towards Communism and towards Dr. Mosadeq, he continued, is well enough known, so that he need not amplify on the subject. However, he considers that the manner in which the trial of Mosadeq has been handled by the military court, the press, and the radio is a grave error. No difference is made between the two periods of Mosadeq’s regime, between the first fifteen months which lasted until July 1952 (the event surrounding the abortive Ghavam Government) and the second period, which lasted until August 19, 1953. In the first period, Dr. Baqai considers that Dr. Mosadeq accurately reflected the national will or movement; he was a symbol of national resurgence. But after July 1952 he became entangled with the communists and in the last few days of his regime finished by committing treason. His connec[Page 858]tion with the communists, Dr. Baqai knows for a fact, because, through reliable informants within the Tudeh, he received, in August 1952, a report of the meeting Mosadeq held with four of the principal Tudeh leaders. This meeting was alleged to have taken place on July 20, 1952. At this meeting, the Tudeh leaders told Mosadeq that he now had the opportunity of doing away with the Shah, the court, and the present form of government, and of establishing a Republic with himself as president. The Tudeh representatives argued that he had become a national symbol while they, on the other hand, represented a popular party. They offered him, therefore, their collaboration to carry out this plan. Mosadeq did not reject their offer outright but, on the contrary, simply answered that the situation was not yet ripe for such a change. Ever since that time, Dr. Baqai considers that Mosadeq has had an understanding with the communists.
In August 1952, after he had received the report of the meeting, Dr. Baqai called on Mosadeq and argued with him at length about the dangers of both the British and the Communists. Both, he told Mosadeq, preyed on the weakness of Iran and therefore sought to perpetuate this weakness. If the British were to be expelled, he advised Mosadeq, all Britishers should leave, not just those who carried British passports, but also all their agents, even those who were Iranian nationals. Otherwise, argued Baqai, the breaking of diplomatic relations and the expulsion of the British would only delude the people. Mosadeq did not take his advice and the result is that, even today, there are British agents who are as active as ever in the country.
Now, continued Baqai, the question arises of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Britain. He considers, and he has carried out a long campaign in his newspaper on this subject, that if relations are reestablished without some previous tangible evidence from the British that they mean to change their attitude towards Iran, then this reestablishment, taken together with the condemnation of Mosadeq’s whole regime, will be interpreted in the popular mind as a condemnation of the national movement. To Iranians, it will simply mean that British colonial policy is reaping its revenge. The consequences of such a disillusionment he foresees as most grave.
After this long preamble, he put the question to the Ambassador in so many words: What reason is there against postponing the reestablishment of diplomatic relations until the British have made some definite gesture (“a gesture of facts”), show their good faith, i.e. permitting the sale of oil, delivering goods which had previously been paid for, or other similar minor concessions?
The Ambassador answered that the British Government had taken the position that diplomatic relations must be reestablished before any conversations on the oil problem can be held. That Government be[Page 859]lieves that only direct negotiations can adequately settle the problem and such negotiations can only be undertaken after diplomatic relations are established. Furthermore, the British Government insists on separating the establishment of diplomatic relations from the differences which arise between governments. At the same time, the Ambassador continued, he was afraid he differed on one point with Dr. Baqai as he understood his position. Dr. Baqai, he thought, believed that the Iranian economy could run without oil revenues. The Ambassador, on the contrary, considered that oil was essential to the Iranian economy and that, without the production and sale of oil, he could see no hope for the economy and therefore the country. He appreciated the difficulties which Dr. Baqai outlined regarding the resumption of diplomatic relations, but he could see no alternative. The British Government had taken a firm position and if the Iranian Government took an equally intransigent position, then he could only foresee the country drifting hopelessly towards bankruptcy. Therefore, for the good of this country, he considered the alternative of resuming relations as the better.
To the above argument, Dr. Baqai made two points. First, since he foresaw the possibility for Iran of remaining a number of years without oil revenues, he thought that, for morale purposes, it was better to encourage the people to make them believe that doing without oil was possible. His advocacy of an oilless economy has been dictated solely for reasons of morale. He himself knows very well the importance of oil to Iran and knows that, if the country is to develop as an independent nation, it must obtain the benefits of its oil resources. Secondly, Baqai did not see why it was not possible for the British to separate the question of compensation from that of the sale of oil. He admitted that the problem of compensation would have to be examined by direct negotiations, but he failed to see why, as a proof of their good faith, the British could not allow the immediate resumption of oil sales. What the Iranian people wanted from the British was tangible proof that they were in earnest regarding their stated intentions of pursuing a new policy towards Iran.
The Ambassador answered that the unsuspected complexities of the oil problem and the firmness of the British position had both led him to consider that the two questions of the sale of oil and of compensation were intimately connected. As things are, even if the British agreed to let Iran sell her oil, only small quantities could be disposed of, because no major oil company would touch this oil for two reasons. First, because until the question of compensation has been settled, there could be no security of title over the oil, and secondly, because to encourage the sale of oil before compensation had been agreed upon would deal a serious blow to foreign investments throughout the world.[Page 860]
Baqai let it be understood that he felt the American Government if it so wished, could very well apply pressure on the large oil companies to come to terms. In answer to this argument, the Ambassador strongly emphasized the feeling of the American people against nationalization without compensation and stated that, were the Government ever to give such advice to the oil companies, there would be a wide outcry throughout the country which would be echoed in Congress.
Dr. Baqai made a final point by stating that one of the principal reasons why he felt it important that the British give proof of their good intentions was that the speech delivered in the House of Commons by Foreign Minister Eden a few days ago was a complete about-face of the previous position of the British Government. Eden declared that it would recognize the Iranian nationalization law on certain conditions. Previously, on two occasions at least—once following the Harriman mission, and another which he described as the “Middleton letter,”—the British had formally declared that they recognized the nationalization law and placed no conditions on this recognition. Now, Eden’s statement was a definite reversal of policy and this action inspired serious doubts as to the British professions of good faith.
The Ambassador disagreed with Baqai’s interpretation of the former British position and pointed out that the British position was that they had accepted nationalization only “in principle”, that they had always qualified their recognition with certain reservations.
In conclusion, Dr. Baqai said that he could see that nothing could be done to prevent the resumption of diplomatic relations, but he wished to make a prognostication of what would follow. He could foresee two consequences: one, politico-economic which he termed “ordinary”, and about which he did not elaborate, and another which he considered much graver. In view of the popular discontent which would follow the resumption of diplomatic relations under present circumstances, General Zahedi would have to call for new elections to the Majlis and to ensure a strong majority for the Government. He would be impelled to control these elections. And, Baqai added, Zahedi is already half a mind to do just this now and is being urged to do so by his advisers. Such a maneuver would increase the general discontent, leading in turn to a strengthening of the Tudeh Party and a dangerous increase in agitation. He was sorry United States diplomacy was again making a grave mistake in Iran. Although he did not specifically so state, he left the impression that he might, with regret, begin attacking the United States as well as Great Britain during the course of his political activities.
Salient Points of Conversation:
1. Dr. Baqai’s opinion of himself as a philosopher-politician, driven to the dirty game of politic in pursuit of the “sublime”.[Page 861]
2. His analysis of his country’s sickness as being caused essentially by the psychology of despair prevailing among the people.
3. His explanation of his political tactics as being aimed at bolstering morale, i.e. his advocacy of an oilless economy and his opposition to the immediate resumption of diplomatic relations with Great Britain.
4. His view that Dr. Mosadeq’s first government was truly representative of the popular will and that he only failed the people in his second government by allying himself with the Tudeh. His conclusion that condemning Mosadeq indiscriminately undermines public confidence.
5. His flat statement that Dr. Mosadeq had had a meeting with Tudeh leaders on July 20, 1952 and had reacted favorably to the idea of creating a Republic.
6. His continued opposition to resumption of relations with Great Britain until the latter had removed Iranian suspicions of British attempted internal intrigues through concrete British acts of good will in the oil sphere.