42. Memorandum From the Counselor of Embassy (Richards) to the Ambassador to Iran (Henderson)1


  • British Views on Future of the Government

Mr. Middleton, Counselor of the British Embassy, in conversation with me today expressed the firm opinion that every effort must be made to settle the oil question while Mosadeq is in power, but at the same time expressed considerable pessimism regarding the outcome of the negotiations. He then indicated that the British are giving serious consideration to the situation which may develop in case oil negotiations break down within the next few days.

Regardless of the success or failure of the Stokes Mission he feels (and I am confident that he reflects the official British Embassy opinion) that Mosadeq cannot be expected to continue in power for long. Mosadeq himself has indicated that he would resign upon the completion of successful negotiations with the British. There is evidence that increasing opposition may force him out unless the negotiations are successful.

The problem of a successor therefore arises. A list of likely candidates for Prime Minister was reviewed by Mr. Middleton who stated that he had information to the effect that the Shah was toying with the idea of the appointment of either Minister of Court Ala or Ibrahim Hakimi. Mr. Middleton characterized Mr. Ala as a man of good-will but lacking in the force and decisiveness necessary at this critical juncture. Hakimi he dismissed as impossible because of his advanced age (he admits to 80 years) and his political inactivity in recent years. Other second-string candidates Mr. Middleton discounted; Zahedi has gone into eclipse since his resignation as Minister of Interior after the July 15 riots; Sadr Fakhr Hekmat, President of the Majlis, probably does not have a popular following; Amir-Alai, Minister of the Interior, has not distinguished himself in public service; and others such as Soheli, the Ambassador at London, Ebtehaj, the Ambassador at Paris, and Ali Mansour, the Ambassador at Rome, he dismissed as out of the running.

This review leaves, according to Mr. Middleton, only two likely successors, Qavam and Seyid Zia.

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Qavam, he stated, would probably be the most effective “strong man” for a short term, and judging from his activities since his return from Europe, he still has considerable political following; further he believed that the Shah, who has seen Qavam several times recently, would not look upon Qavam with disfavor, in spite of their break last year. However, while mentally alert, Qavam is in ill-health and probably incapable of carrying the burden of a high government office. Furthermore, he characterized Qavam as a member of the corrupt old-guard who could not be expected to carry out economic and political reforms which both the U.S. and the U.K. consider necessary for the development of Iran as a bulwark against Communism.

Mr. Middleton therefore returned to the opinion apparently long held by the British that Seyid Zia, in spite of his obvious disadvantages, is probably the best candidate presently available. He recognized that Seyid Zia’s long association with the British would inevitably cause him to be labeled a British stooge; also Seyid Zia has not held public office for a number of years. He felt, however, that these disadvantages were outweighed by (1) Seyid Zia’s progressive and reformist policies, (2) his mental and physical vigor, (3) his recent friendly association with the Shah and (4) his comparative freedom from the taint of corruption. He stated also that of the likely candidates Seyid Zia would be most amenable to “guidance” from the British and Americans.

Mr. Middleton urged that in the interest of political stability in the Middle East the U.S. and the U.K. must agree in advance on a parallel if not identical course of action before a change of the Mosadeq Government becomes imminent. In particular, he emphasized that the U.S. and U.K. must impress upon the Shah the necessity for acceptance of the strongest possible Prime Minister and that the Shah must be assured of at least moral support by both governments to the extent that he would feel confident in such a choice. Otherwise Mr. Middleton foresees the possible appointment of another weak Prime Minister and the consequent continuation of confused drifting.

The following are my comments on the foregoing:

I am confident that Mr. Middleton was not just making conversation when he talked to me along the foregoing lines. It seems apparent that he wanted to be sure that we were thinking of developments which might be expected in the near future. On the whole, what he had to say is the same old line served up in a slightly new form. It is even possible, that the British still feel that they might stand a better chance of coming to an agreement on the oil question were Mosadeq to be removed in spite of Middleton’s protestations to the contrary.

Mosadeq has said that he is in office for one primary purpose and that is to nationalize the oil; that he will resign when he accomplishes that. I am not convinced that this is necessarily true. Mosadeq has had a [Page 125] taste of power as Prime Minister and both he and his followers will be reluctant to give it up. Furthermore, details for the administration of the next elections must be completed by the end of Shahrivar (September 23). The Government in power before that date is in a position to appoint officials to run the elections, to determine places of voting, and otherwise to make arrangements regarding elections. This in the past has always meant that it is in a position to “rig” the elections. Mosadeq and his followers will be unlikely to give up such an opportunity unless they are forced to do so.

Another factor which must be considered if Mosadeq goes out is that he would then be a public hero and would undoubtedly be a leader of a strong and embarrassing opposition in the Majlis. Any Prime Minister who might succeed him would find it extremely difficult to put through any legislation against the opposition of Mosadeq.

I am of the opinion that we should go very slow in making any comments regarding the length of time Mosadeq may be in office or who should succeed him. We must avoid close identification with any politician, at least for the present. To do otherwise would leave us open to accusation of close and sinister collaboration with the British and would give support to the allegation of intervention in the internal affairs of the country.

Mr. Middleton’s comments regarding the need of a strong Prime Minister and the almost tragic need of the Shah for moral support from the U.S. and U.K. both deserve serious attention. But we must exercise great caution in the manner by which we attempt to assist in this regard.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 84, Tehran Embassy Files, 1950–1952, classified general records,Box 29. Confidential.