55. Despatch From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1
- Embassy’s secret telegram No. 1869, November 19, 19512
- Joint Estimate of the Situation In Iran, November 1951 prepared by the American and the British Embassies in Tehran
While the attached joint study of the American and the British Embassies at Tehran upon the current Iranian situation has been cabled to the Department in the above reference, this Embassy has believed it desirable to transmit the fully-phrased text decided upon by the two Embassies to provide a complete-reference document for the Department.
The document provides its own commentary, and it might be added that in the interests of Anglo-American solidarity the British Embassy agreed that for its spelling of Mosadeq (Mussadiq) it would accept general American spelling throughout and American usage of Iran instead of “Persia.”
For the Ambassador:
Roy M. Melbourne
First Secretary of Embassy
JOINT ESTIMATE OF THE SITUATION IN IRAN, NOVEMBER 1951
prepared by the American and British Embassies at Tehran
We assume that the immediate, mutual and overriding United States–United Kingdom objective in Iran is to prevent that country from falling into communist hands.
Principal Factors in Iran Today
A. Corrupt and inefficient system of government.[Page 155]
B. Strong popular current of anti-foreign nationalism, personified and led by Prime Minister Musaddiq, Kashani and National Front supporters.
C. Constitutional monarchy, headed by indecisive and weak though well-intentioned Shah.
D. Small oligarchy of landowners and merchants, motivated primarily by self-interest, and currently supporting the constitutional regime.
E. Running sore of oil dispute with British, with attendant dislocation of Iran’s economy and politics.
F. Security forces in general still loyal to the Shah.
G. Moslem religion which affects all phases of Iranian life.
H. Depressed economic and social conditions of the majority of the population, with resultant discontent. (Detailed report submitted separately)3
I. Communist exploitation of the situation.
J. Decline of western influence.
A. There are elements in Iran which wish for good government, honest government, and government for the good of the people. But they are not in control. Corruption and nepotism are rife. Many officials great and small take advantage of their positions to extract money from the people. The result is that there exists a vast gulf between officialdom and the people. In the absence of any effective, really democratic reform party the discontent of the people is bound to attract them towards the extreme of communism.
Corruption and nepotism are as prevalent under the Musaddiq Government as under previous governments. Likewise, the general public, accustomed to regarding all governments as oppressive and indifferent to their interests, has little, if any, different feeling for the Musaddiq regime.
B. Iranians in general resent and suspect all foreigners. Their national pride was inflated by Reza Shah and deflated by the Allied occupation during the war. The national post-war upsurge was vented first on the Soviets and then on the British against whose oil company in Iran there had long been a latent feeling of resentment. Nothing that is likely to happen in the near future is likely to make the Iranians less nationalist in outlook. Regardless of the possible removal or defeat of Musaddiq and his National Front, the public could almost certainly be induced to support another leader or movement in the future which [Page 156] panders to this nationalism and to oppose what might be considered as appeasement of the foreigner at the expense of Iran. However, it is important to recognize the potential ability of politicians in power to control the police and largely to monopolize the means of propaganda, which can have at least short-run effects upon the basic nationalistic feelings of the people.
The above is common ground to both Embassies. They disagree, however, as to the extent Iranian nationalism will limit the freedom of action of any future government.
The demonstrated political ability of Musaddiq as a shrewd leader of the National Front minority and a demagogue who well understands Iranian emotions and character, his personal prejudices against the British, and his almost megalomaniac desire to act as champion of the Iranian people in the struggle for “independence” are important factors to be considered in the present situation. Aside from the popularity of Mussadiq because of his oil program, which thus far seems to be the only definite program of the National Front, much support is brought to him by the demagogic Mullah Kashani, who is notoriously venal and very probably would desert him if any of Mosadeq’s rivals offered an inducement outweighing the “spoils” which he derives from his influence with the present government.
C. The Shah might be a factor for stability, continuity of leadership and resistance to communism in Iran. He appears, however, to have too little confidence in his own influence; at least he apparently does not regard it as opportune to endeavor to exert it against the present government.
He has thus far been unable to use nationalist elements to strengthen the Crown or to effect much needed reforms in the face of the landowning-merchant oligarchy.
The Shah realizes that Musaddiq and Kashani, with their followers, are anxious to limit his powers and he is also aware that National Front hostility towards the Army arises from the fear that he might use it against them. However, he currently feels if he should actively try to remove Musaddiq there could be an upheaval in which the prestige and influence of the Crown would probably suffer.
The disappearance of the Shah would mean the loss to the western world of a friendly and potentially powerful stabilizing element and the ensuing struggle for power might lead to chaos which an organized Tudeh Party would exploit.
D. The landowner-merchant oligarchy, with the support of powerful religious leaders, has been one of the main obstacles to progress of the Iranian people and to the development of the country’s resources. It has tenaciously fought for maintenance of the status quo. While supporting the Shah as a stabilizing factor in the country, it has obstructed [Page 157] his inclinations towards reforms. This feudal group is anxious to perpetuate itself and is governed by short-sighted self-interest.
E. The oil dispute with the British, with attendant dislocation of Iran’s economy as a result of cessation of the oil industry, is the most acute factor for instability in Iran today. Political and popular emotions have been increasingly exacerbated by this issue during the past year. Failure to obtain the usual oil revenues will affect the government bureaucracy and the military forces seriously as salaries and supplies lag behind. Trade standstill and general economic consequences are discussed in Section H. Finally, until revenues again begin to flow from the oil industry, no government, even if so inclined, can turn to public works or improvement of the miserable social and economic conditions of the majority of the population.
F. There is still considerable loyalty to the Shah among security forces. United States advisory missions to these forces assist in maintaining their effectiveness for internal security.
Nevertheless, the armed forces in Iran are weak reeds for the Shah, the government and the free world to rely upon. Lower ranks are discontented and ill-paid, many junior officers are receptive to communist propaganda, and senior officers often are incompetent and corrupt. In view of the anti-military sentiments and the “neutralist” foreign policy of Musaddiq, it is not unlikely that United States military missions could be hampered in their operations and could even be forced eventually to leave. This last development would be a serious blow to the Anglo-United States position in Iran.
G. In the Moslem world religion is both a stabilizing factor and a serious obstacle to reform. At the same time demagogic religious leaders in Iran appealing to the intolerant aspects of Islam can contribute towards political instability. This has been the case under the Musaddiq government when such men as Mullah Kashani have been gaining increased prominence and influence. They gave to the movement to drive out the British almost the significance of a religious crusade. There are signs, however, that the conservative religious leaders are disturbed by and opposed to the activities of the demagogues.
H. See report submitted separately.
I. The Tudeh Party is effectively organized as a force in politics and in industry with an estimated full membership in Tehran of 8,000, in Khuzistan of 5,000 and a strong membership in Azerbaijan and Gilan. The demonstration of July 15 showed considerable organizing capacity. It also has influence in sections of the army, the police and government departments. Its cover organizations such as the Partisans of Peace are allowed to operate and communist line newspapers are allowed to appear.[Page 158]
It already adopts an extreme line over the oil question and any deviation of the National Front leaders from their present extremist course would add to its propaganda strength. Much of its strength lies in the Iranian popular misconception of the nature of the Tudeh. It is widely viewed as an indigenous political movement advocating reforms close to the heart of the populace. In fact, many Iranians have not forgotten certain reforms sponsored by the Party during the time of its ascendancy.
The average Iranian has an historic suspicion of the USSR, but at the same time he has an ostrich-like attitude in viewing current Soviet intentions. He is being diverted by the current oil dispute and communist efforts to interpret it as Anglo-American imperialism. His imagination in this regard is continually sharpened by a steady barrage of clever Soviet propaganda. The USSR is queen of the airwaves in this area. At any time one can hear Soviet propaganda on the various short and long wave-lengths in several languages.
At present the communists are spurring the nationalists’ drive to oust the British from Iran, while trying to link this with their own anti-American line. When the western powers are driven from Iran and their influence destroyed, the communists may be expected to introduce the second stage of their long-range objectives—the destruction of internal rivals for power in Iran.
The United States recent position in the Security Council regarding the oil dispute has been construed here as substantive support of the United Kingdom, thus offsetting the previous impression in Iranian minds that the United States favored the Iranian case, and may be expected to increase Tudeh potential directly and indirectly through the resultant tendency of the National Front and its popular supporters to turn toward the USSR.4 In time this may create an environment favorable to the Tudeh ambition to seize power.
There is little indication of an immediate intention to seize power by force. However, if an exceptional opportunity presents itself in the uncertain near future through the disintegration of forces for stability in Iran, the Party will certainly make its bid. At present it appears that the Party’s immediate aim is to strengthen its political position by securing the election to the 17th Majlis of a small number of deputies. These would seek the legalization of the Party, and in this they could expect support from some right-wing politicians, especially those with estates in the north, who by this means would try to curry favor with the Russians. Then the Party would try to increase its influence in the [Page 159] government to the extent that the latter could no longer raise effective opposition to the Party’s extra-legal methods of terror and force.
In the event of the fall of Musaddiq and the advent to power of a government opposed to the peaceful development of the Tudeh Party, it seems likely:
1) that the Tudeh Party would adopt more vigorous tactics directed against the government; and
2) that the government in its turn would adopt more vigorous measures to implement the anti-Tudeh laws.
We believe that it is not yet too late for a resolutely anti-Tudeh government to take fairly effective security action to hamper the development of the Party. The fact is, however, that no matter how anti-Tudeh any government may be, it will in the long run play into the hands of the communists if it engages in the corrupt practices and possesses the reactionary outlook of most Iranian governments of recent years.
J. The present direction taken by Iranian nationalism, as exemplified by its attitude towards the British oil interests, has served to decrease western influence, particularly the British. British influence has been effective in the past in keeping the Russians from gaining control of all of Iran, whereas Soviet policy has sought to eliminate western influence in Iran and to deny Iranian oil to the non-communist world except on Soviet terms.
The present decline in western influence in Iran in turn weakens Iranian resistance to communism and Soviet pressure. Iranians long accustomed to playing foreign powers against each other and over-fond of hoping that their country can remain neutral may dangerously open themselves to Soviet penetration to such an extent that, if or when they turn later to the western world to save them from Soviet domination, their position will already have become irretrievable. Hence, with this prospect in view, the relative responsibility of the United States has increased on behalf of the free world in preventing Iran from passing into the Soviet sphere.
Despite the present outburst of anti-British feeling, the British still have a body of opinion in their favor which, although temporarily submerged, might be effectively mobilized in certain circumstances. For instance, if the oil dispute could be settled in a manner inoffensive to reasonable Iranian nationalist elements, or if the Russians or communists should make a misstep, the British might still stage a comeback.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 788.00/11–2351. Secret; Security Information. Drafted by Melbourne. Received December 12.↩
- Not found.↩
- Presumably a general discussion of the economic and trade repercussions of the oil dispute, which was not found attached.↩
- See footnote 4, Document 49.↩