353. Memorandum of Conversation1

Memorandum Summarizing Conversation Between the Shah of Iran and Loy W. Henderson, American Ambassador, on the Afternoon of December 22, 1953

During a conversation which I had several days ago with Mr. Ala, Minister of Court, I remarked that it had been two weeks since I had seen the Shah and it might be useful for me to have another audience with him. Mr. Ala telephoned the following day setting an appointment for the evening of December 22.

MosadeqRiahi trial

The Shah opened our conversation by referring to the trial of Mosadeq which had terminated on the preceding day. His Majesty said he was pleased that the sentence had been limited to three years in solitary [Page 862] confinement. He thought that if the sentence had been for a longer term there might have been considerable public sympathy for Mosadeq. On the other hand if the sentence had not called for “solitary” confinement he would not have been in a position to commute the sentence to banishment to a remote place in Iran or to some foreign country which would consent to receive him and prevent him from engaging in political activities against Iran. In Iran a sentence to simple imprisonment—not solitary confinement—is considered to be just as mild as banishment, and therefore not subject to commutation to banishment. If Mosadeq should subsequently show the right attitude it was the intention of the Shah to commute the sentence to banishment.

The Shah said he was also pleased with the sentence of General Riahi. He thought that General Riahi had behaved in a dignified, manly, and constructive way during the trial and therefore should not be punished too severely. The General was now being expelled from the Army and in the opinion of the Shah should never be reinstated.

The Shah asked me if I had read the statement which he had sent to the trial judge on the eve of the termination of the trial. In this statement he had indicated that in his opinion Mosadeq had served the interests of Iran by nationalizing oil and in fact during the first year of his Prime Ministership had had the support of the Shah himself and that therefore the Shah held no personal grievance against Mosadeq for what the latter had done during the last part of his Prime Ministership. The Shah said that he had sent this message to the President of the Court for two reasons:

a. He wanted to make it clear that he favored and still favored the nationalization of oil. He thought this was wise in order that the nationalists in Iran would not think that their Sovereign had deserted them. He considered that a certain amount of nationalism was necessary for Iran and that it should develop under his leadership.

b. When it became apparent that the arrival of the British would almost coincide with the sentencing of Mosadeq it seemed important that he should make it clear to all Iranians that he was still supporting Mosadeq’s attitude towards the British during the first year that Mosadeq was Prime Minister. He thought this was necessary in order to weaken propaganda which the enemies of himself and of the Government would be sure to disseminate to the effect that the sentencing of Mosadeq to prison at the time of the arrival of the British in Iran showed how completely the present regime of Iran was under the British thumb. The Shah said he was well pleased with the results of his intervention in the trial. He had caught Mosadeq off balance and had for the time being disarmed Mosadeq’s adherents.

The Dissolution of the Senate and the Majlis and the Call for New Elections

I told the Shah that I was glad that finally the firman had been issued dissolving the Majlis and calling for new elections. I was particu[Page 863]larly pleased that apparently there had been no important hostile public reaction to this firman. The decision of the Shah and of the Government seemed to have been taken by the public as a matter of course.

The Shah said that if he had had his way this firman would have been issued two months ago. He also was pleased with the way in which it had been received by the public. There had been opposition in certain circles to the dissolution of the Senate. It had been argued that since the Senate would have a quorum when in due course the vacancies provided by law had been filled there was no reason to dissolve it. He had considered it necessary to dissolve the Senate for two reasons: (a) He himself had signed a firman under pressure from Mosadeq and the Majlis in 1952 dissolving the Senate. He did not believe that he could ignore his own firman without injuring the royal prestige. This fact had influenced his decision to dissolve the Senate before it would endeavor to enact any legislation. (b) The Senate had become extremely unpopular, partly as the result of propaganda carried on against it and partly as the result of the incapacity or weakness of some of its members. There was general feeling in the country to the effect that the Senate was under British control. Undoubtedly there were certain members of the Senate who were more interested in pleasing the British Government than in protecting the interests of Iran. He was of the opinion that in general the members of the Senate were loyal and capable. The dissolution of the Senate would, in his opinion, soften some of the resentment among Iranian nationalists rising from the dissolution of Majlis. By including both houses in his firman he was showing favoritism to neither. He thought that most of the former members of the Senate would be re-elected or reappointed. Some should be got rid of. He had noted with some satisfaction that apparently Senator Nasser Khan, one of the leading Qashqai chieftains, had already expressed concern at his loss of parliamentary immunity as a result of the dissolution of the Senate. The Shah was not unhappy that several of the Senators had lost their parliamentary immunity.

I asked the Shah how soon, in his opinion, elections would start. He said as soon as possible; he hoped within the next two weeks. I inquired if he and the Prime Minister were in agreement with regard to candidates. The Shah replied that he thought the Prime Minister was cooperating in this matter quite satisfactorily. Both he and the Prime Minister were in agreement that so far as possible the deputy from each district in the country would be a well-known highly respected resident of that district—not someone imposed upon the district from Tehran.

I inquired whether or not the Prime Minister was keeping him informed regarding his lists of prospective candidates. The Shah again replied in the affirmative. He said that the Prime Minister would not [Page 864] dare try to deceive him in a matter of this kind. I remarked that I was convinced of the complete loyalty of the Prime Minister to the Shah and of the Prime Minister’s desire to keep the Shah fully informed regarding his actions. The Shah said he agreed that the Prime Minister was loyal to him. The Prime Minister’s position depended upon his complete loyalty. Nevertheless, there was always the temptation on the part of a Prime Minister to attempt to put some of his own personal friends into the Majlis. The Shah could understand this and would not object if the Prime Minister should introduce perhaps a dozen personal adherents provided they were men of good reputation and of ability. The Shah thought it was imperative, however, that he should make sure regarding the general high quality of the new Majlis and new Senate.

The Visit of Vice President Nixon

The Shah remarked that the visit of the Vice President had been a complete success.2 It had served to strengthen relations between Iran and the United States and also to strengthen the position of the Iranian Government. He hoped that the Vice President went away satisfied. I replied that I was certain that the Vice President was happy at his reception, at the manner in which he had been treated while he was here, and what seemed to be the constructive results of his visit. I said I would like to take occasion again to express the appreciation of the Government of the United States for the hospitality and the numerous friendly courtesies extended by the Shah, the Government, and many sections of the Iranian people towards the Vice President. It was particularly gratifying that in spite of the delicate situation prevailing there had not been a single disagreeable incident.

U.S. Military Aid to Iran

The Shah said he hoped I would not take it amiss if he should ask me what, if anything, the Vice President might be able to do for Iran. I said that I thought the understanding of Iranian problems which the Vice President had obtained during his visit to Iran would put him in a position to say an explanatory word sympathetic to Iran from time to time when Iranian problems were discussed in the higher governmental circles. The Shah asked if the Vice President had told me of their last conversation relating to Iranian military needs.3 He said that he [Page 865] had told the Vice President frankly that he would not be content to be Commander-in-Chief of a police army; an army destined only for police purposes would not give Iran the self-assurance and confidence necessary for the maintenance of Iranian independence. He had explained to the Vice President why it was necessary that the Iranian Army should be remodeled so that it had sufficient defense capabilities to engage in a delaying action if Iran should be attacked by the Soviet Union. When the Vice President had asked regarding Iran’s attitude to some kind of a military arrangement with Turkey and Pakistan he had informed the Vice President that in his opinion such an arrangement should come in due course if Iran would have an army of a character which could contribute to regional defense. It was only natural that Iran with a defensive army should have a military understanding with Turkey and Pakistan. He thought that Iran might be able to enter into an understanding of this strictly regional character without departing from its long-standing policy of neutrality; that is without becoming a member of the “Western bloc”. The Russians would object in any event. Nevertheless Iran must have the right to enter into local arrangements for the purpose of strengthening its security. Iran would not however enter into discussions looking forward to arrangements of this kind until it was in possession of an army capable of at least some kind of defensive action.

He had discussed this problem on December 21 with Zafrullah Khan, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, and was glad to see that Zafrullah Khan appeared to share his views. The Shah said he had been deeply impressed with Zafrullah Khan; he had found the latter frank and full of understanding. He thought that the visit of the Pakistan Foreign Minister would in general be helpful in strengthening understanding between Pakistan and Iran.

Improved Position of the Iranian Government

I told the Shah that in my opinion the Iranian Government had made greater advances in the political field during the month of December than it had made during the three previous months that it had been in office. It seemed to me that hardly a day had passed by without some significant, constructive decision having been made. I thought that as a result of the new attitude of decisiveness and the display of willingness to take action on the part of the Government it was now moving forward with renewed confidence and was creating public confidence in its ability to do things. I referred illustratively to the establishment of relations with the United Kingdom, to the dissolution of the Majlis, to the decisive attitude adopted towards Kashani, Baqai, Maki, et al, and to the outcome of the Mosadeq trial. The trial had come out much better than I had anticipated. At one time I had been much concerned at the way in which it was being handled. I was relieved that [Page 866] it had now come to an end in a nonsensational manner. I hoped that Mosadeq’s appeal could be disposed of without too much attendant publicity.

The Shah agreed with my optimism. He said his chief concern at the moment related to charges of corruption. He thought in general that the rumors of corruption were grossly exaggerated. Nevertheless, it seemed to him that the Prime Minister should show a greater interest in investigating charges of graft. General Guilanshah, who had been acting informally as an inspector for the Prime Minister, had recently informed the Shah that he had found evidences of corruption in the Customs Department and in the Ministry of Roads but had been instructed by the Prime Minister not to press investigations just now. The Prime Minister had taken the position that investigations of graft charges at this particular moment might divert the public mind from thinking of constructive measures which must be taken. The Shah on his part thought that the disclosure and prosecution of graft would strengthen the prestige of the Government and obtain for it a wider measure of public support. The Shah said that it was his understanding that the corruption which Guilanshah thought he had discovered had been in existence for more than two years. I suggested that it might be a good idea to set up some kind of administration headed by prominent men of of unquestioned integrity whose duty it would be to check and approve every important governmental transaction involving an expenditure of considerable sums. The Shah agreed and said that he thought a person such as Ebtahaj or Allah-Yar Saleh might be useful at the head of an administration of this kind.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 788.00/12–2853. Secret. Drafted by Henderson. Transmitted to the Department as an enclosure to despatch 368 from Tehran, December 28.
  2. Vice President Richard M. Nixon was in Iran December 9–12 as part of his good will tour of the Far East and South Asia, which began on October 7 and ended upon his return to Washington December 14. Extensive material regarding the Vice President’s trip is ibid., 033.1100–NI.
  3. Henderson reported on the December 11 meeting between Nixon and the Shah in telegram 1341 from Tehran, December 17, printed in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. X, Iran, 1951–1954, pp. 850–852 (Document 396). See also footnote 3, Document 360.