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49. Paper Prepared in the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs, Department of State1

THE CURRENT IRANIAN SITUATION

The last briefing of the Security Council on Iran dealt with the situation as of August 22, while Mr. Harriman was in Tehran.2 The British-Iranian negotiations which had been brought about through Mr. Harriman’s efforts were thereafter suspended. Later, they were broken off altogether by the British Government as a result of strong public statements made by Dr. Mosadeq. The following is a brief account of developments since that time.

On September 12, Prime Minister Mosadeq addressed a letter to Mr. Harriman setting forth certain proposals for a possible settlement and stating that failure by the British within 15 days to agree to resumption of negotiations would compel the Iranian Government to expel British technicians remaining in the south.3 Mr. Harriman declined to pass this communication on to the British as requested by Dr. Mosadeq, pointing out in friendly terms that the proposals would not in his judgment provide a basis for new discussions.

Several days later Dr. Mosadeq, through Minister of Court Ala, informally submitted modified proposals to the British Ambassador [Page 141]which, while still far from satisfactory, the Department felt provided hope that a basis could be found to renew the talks. The Shah himself believed it highly desirable that the British not reject this overture. Indications were given that the Iranians might send plenipotentiaries to London if the British agreed to resume negotiations.

Department officers discussed this new approach with the British Ambassador in Washington on September 21 and handed him an informal paper urging that the British give favorable consideration to the Iranian move. They emphasized the desirability of the British remaining in a negotiating posture, and expressed the fear that an entirely negative reaction might make a settlement impossible for a long time to come.

While the British Cabinet was considering the Department’s representations, word was received from the British Ambassador in Tehran to the effect that the Shah was convinced of the need for getting rid of Dr. Mosadeq and was only concerned as to how this could best be done.4 On this basis the decision was taken to reject flatly the proposal and to offer Dr. Mosadeq no encouragement that the British were prepared to resume negotiations. It was felt by the British that these tactics would weaken Dr. Mosadeq and strengthen his opposition in the Majlis. The British Ambassador was instructed to encourage the Shah in every way to replace Dr. Mosadeq with a government amenable to a reasonable settlement.

The Department’s disappointment at this action was shared by the Shah and Minister of Court Ala. The Court has made it clear that it would be a mistake for either the Shah or any foreign power to try to effect Dr. Mosadeq’s removal at this time, and our analysis of the situation confirms that the Shah’s own position would be seriously endangered if he should endeavor to bring this about until the widespread support in Iran for Dr. Mosadeq has considerably diminished. The Shah has, however, been made aware of the fact that we would encourage him to move if he should feel his position sufficiently strong to do so.

Dr. Mosadeq reacted sharply to the British reply and on September 24 the Iranian Government announced that the British oil technicians would be compelled to leave by October 4. Ambassador Henderson was instructed immediately to see the Prime Minister and the Shah and to express our grave concern over the expulsion order, urging that it be not implemented. He undertook in every appropriate way to have the order canceled and to persuade Prime Minister Mosadeq to show some reason in this critical situation, but his advice was not heeded. The [Page 142]Prime Minister categorically refused to withhold the order and denounced the British in the strongest terms.5

The cancellation order brought forth from the British new and strong approaches to the Shah urging him to take immediate action, but the latter declined to do so. Having been already informed on numerous previous occasions that the United States would not support the use of force in such circumstances, the British Cabinet, then confronted with the necessity for an immediate decision, decided to take the matter to the Security Council. The British Government informed the Department on September 28 of this plan.6 Before our reaction had been obtained, a public announcement was made by the British and a draft resolution circulated to the members of the Security Council. Although the Department doubted the wisdom of this course, and made clear the reasons for its doubts, it was necessary to assure the British that we would support them in the Security Council. We urged them, however, to replace their strongly-worded draft resolution with one which would have minimum adverse effects and which might possibly contribute to a solution to the problem. The British made it clear that their decision to take the matter to the Security Council was based largely, if not wholly, on internal political considerations as an alternative to the use of force, and that they would require a strong resolution to be introduced even if it could not receive the required number of votes or was vetoed by the Soviet Union. They agreed, however, to undertake to draft a resolution which could receive our diplomatic support.7 The British decided before the expiration of the Iranian ultimatum to withdraw the technicians from Abadan.

The Security Council was convened on October 2 to consider the British complaint, and by a vote of 9 to 2 agreed that the item should be put on the agenda. The question of competence was not then decided, and several delegations reserved their position in this respect. Subsequently, the British and American delegations endeavored to work out [Page 143]a mutually acceptable draft resolution. Our efforts to persuade the British to assume a more conciliatory attitude in the draft resulted in a sharp reaction in London, and the British Government through various channels in London, Washington and New York set forth in very strong terms their dissatisfaction with what they considered to be the lack of support for their position. The British expressed concern that this lack of support might result in the question entering into the political debate in the United Kingdom with consequent harmful effects upon United States-British relations.

We have, however, now been able to work out a resolution which goes a long way toward meeting the British desires and which we feel would encounter minimum adverse reaction on the part of the Iranians. Briefly, this resolution would (a) recount on a factual basis the principal factors relating to the situation, including the fact that Iran did not accept the provisional measures of the International Court of Justice; (b) call for a resumption of negotiations on the basis of the principles of the Court’s decision, unless some other mutually acceptable basis can be found; and (c) call upon all countries to take no action which would prejudice the rights, claims or positions of the parties.8

Dr. Mosadeq, heading a large Iranian delegation, arrived in New York on October 8 to represent Iran before the Security Council. It is understood that his efforts will be directed toward denying the competency of the Security Council in the matter. In so doing he is expected to make a blistering attack against the AIOC in particular and the British in general. It is feared that airing the matter before the Security Council will very seriously prejudice the possibility of successful negotiations. It would be well if Dr. Mosadeq’s presence in the United States could be used as an opportunity to bring about a resumption of negotiations before the Security Council action, although the present British political situation is such as to make it unlikely that they will or can agree to a substantial postponement of the Council’s meeting. The Department is, however, endeavoring in such ways as it can to bring about a resumption of negotiations, although as a practical matter this is probably not possible until after the British elections on October 25.

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Assistant Secretary of State George C. McGhee has had conversations in New York with Dr. Mosadeq.9 While these talks have been largely of a preliminary nature, Dr. Mosadeq has given the impression that he would like if possible to avoid Security Council action, especially since he believes that what he must say before the Council would make it extremely difficult for the British to negotiate with his Government; that he in fact wants a settlement with the British and would be prepared to make some amendments in his previous proposals although he was not willing at the time to agree to all elements of a solution which might be termed satisfactory; that he would prefer that any preliminary conversations preceding negotiations be between himself and United States representatives rather than directly with the British; that he would welcome a postponement of the Security Council action to permit time for negotiations; that he would be willing to undertake negotiations with the British after the Security Council action; that he understood the political situation in Great Britain and would be willing to postpone negotiations until after the elections on October 25. He pointed out, however, that the financial situation in Iran is critical and will compel the Iranian Government to take action in the very near future to relieve the problem.

President Truman has invited Dr. Mosadeq, in line with the usual courtesies extended to visiting Prime Ministers, to come to Washington during his stay in the United States. This will provide an opportunity for constructive talks with Dr. Mosadeq at the highest level. A time for the visit has not, however, been established as yet.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 888.2553/10–1051. Top Secret. Drafted by Kitchen and Rountree. The paper is attached to a memorandum from McGhee to Acheson for use as a background summary for the 104th meeting of the NSC on the same day. See Document 50.
  2. The official minutes of the NSC meeting of August 22 record that the National Security Council discussed NSC 107/2 and a briefing given by DCI Smith. (Ibid., RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, Official Minutes 1947–1961, Box 16, 100th Meeting)
  3. For a discussion of Prime Minister Mosadeq’s letter to Harriman and its aftermath, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. X, Iran, 1951–1954, pp. 162–163 (Document 86). Regarding the Harriman Mission, see footnote 3, Document 43.
  4. Document 46.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. X, Iran, 1951–1954, pp. 164–167 (Document 88). A memorandum of conversation, dated September 28, is in National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 888.2553/9–2851.
  6. See Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. X, Iran, 1951–1954, pp. 183–185 (Document 97).
  7. In telegram 1581 from London, October 1, Gifford voiced his concern at U.S.–U.K. divergency over the nature of a potential U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran. Gifford argued, “we have now reached point where it seems to me there is clear-cut issue before us: do we condemn or at least imply condemnation of Mossadeq for his continued irresponsibility or do we in effect condone it by associating ourselves with a res which attaches no blame and treats both parties equally?” Gifford concluded: “I hope most earnestly that Dept may be able to give urgent consideration to these points with a view toward evolving new res which avoids what I consider needlessly provocative tone of Brit res and, at same time, weak nature of ours.” Full text of the telegram is ibid., pp. 188–190 (Document 99).
  8. In October, the United States worked with the British on the United Nations Security Council resolution, which called for a resumption of oil negotiations on the basis of the opinion of the International Court of Justice issued on July 5. In its negotiations with the British on the proposed Security Council resolution, the U.S. attempted to dissuade them from including a demand for the return of all British technicians expelled from Iran as a result of Prime Minister Mosadeq’s order of September 24. For extensive documentation on this Security Council resolution, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. X, Iran, 1951–1954, pp. 196–220 (Documents 102110).
  9. See ibid., pp. 211–218 (Documents 108 and 109).