169. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Dulles to President Eisenhower1


  • The Iranian Situation

Ever since the assassination of General Razmara in March 1951, and the subsequent impasse and diplomatic break with Britain over the oil negotiations, the Iranian situation has been slowly disintegrating. The result has been a steady decrease in the power and influence of the Western democracies and the building up of a situation where a Communist takeover is becoming more and more of a possibility. However, even the present crisis is likely to be unsatisfactorily compromised without a Communist Tudeh victory. Of course, the elimination of Mossadeq by assassination or otherwise might precipitate decisive events except in the unlikely alternative that the Shah should regain courage and decisiveness. The events of the past 48 hours have brought a few surprises. The fanatical Moslem leader, Kashani, who is also President of the Majlis, has shown more power than expected both in influencing the Majlis and in quickly marshaling for mob action his fanatical followers. The institution of the Crown may have more popular backing than was expected.

Today’s situation in Teheran remains tense and unresolved. Some street demonstrations have occurred today, but the curfew is still in effect and general order is apparently being preserved.

The principal opposing forces are represented on the one hand by Prime Minister Mossadeq and, on the other, by Mullah Kashani, with the Shah apparently being used by Kashani.

The Communist Tudeh Party may be expected to capitalize on, and increase, the tension in every possible way. The Tudeh Party, [Page 476] which has always been anti-Shah, will probably back Mossadeq for the time being.

Significant elements of the Army will probably remain loyal to the Shah, but whether or not they can be forged into an effective weapon in shaping political developments depends on the Shah’s determination to use them. So far this determination has not appeared. On the other hand, Mossadeq appears to retain control of the chain of command.

As between Mossadeq and Kashani, it appears that Mossadeq has still the greater strength although he has obviously lost some prestige in Parliament and among the people. Kashani’s following, however, is better consolidated in the capital through a well organized “street machine”, which Mossadeq does not possess.

The Prime Minister appeared before Parliament Saturday night at 8:30. After an initial friendly reception he was subjected to bitter criticism. Mossadeq reportedly asked Parliament for a vote of confidence, asserting that if the position of his government had not been clarified within 48 hours, he would appeal to the people. For the first time he failed to sway the Majlis by his oratory. After an initial indication that he intended to seek official “refuge” in Parliament, he returned to his heavily guarded home at 2:30 Sunday morning.

Despite the weakening of Mossadeq’s position, he still appears to be able to recoup. His National Movement faction, some 28 deputies, has come up strongly in his favor; demonstrations have been staged in his support, and he has replaced Chief of Staff Baharmast (on the grounds that Baharmast failed to maintain public security) with General Riyahi.

If Mossadeq maintains control he will increase his efforts to remove or neutralize all opposition. His latent hostility toward the Shah is likely to increase. He might resent Henderson’s activities during the crisis.

Mullah Kashani has been a key figure in promoting the pro-Shah street demonstrations. He has also led Parliament’s attack on Mossadeq. If Mossadeq were to disappear, Kashani would be a serious contender for his position. Although personally not acceptable to the Shah, the latter would be inclined to appoint him prime minister if recommended by Parliament.

Kashani, with a record of venality, would bring a large degree of opportunism to the government. He has consistently followed a policy of extreme nationalism antagonistic to the U.S. If he succeeded Mossadeq, he would have a much narrower basis of support than Mossadeq enjoyed before the current crisis and would, therefore, be likely to resort to ruthlessness to destroy opposition. In his struggle to do so Tudeh influence and opportunities for gaining control would increase rapidly.

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Retired General Zahedi, currently imprisoned by Mossadeq, also wishes to become Prime Minister, and his adherents are active in the Majlis. It is unlikely that he will succeed.

The present situation offers the Shah an opportunity which he has not as yet seized. His past record does not suggest that he will act.

In this situation it becomes urgent to survey Western assets in Iran:

1. The American Embassy. We have in Teheran one of our ablest and most experienced foreign service officers who, as we view it from his reports, is showing both courage and wisdom and deserves full support. Henderson enjoys the respect of Mossadeq and the Shah insofar as it is possible to have the respect of each in the present situation. In addition to attachés of the three U.S. services, there is an experienced CIA mission [less than 1 line not declassified] with [less than 1 line not declassified] a pipe line to the leaders of the Quasqai tribal leaders. The Chief of CIA’s Middle Eastern desk is en route to Teheran. Except for the Soviet Embassy, with a large and highly competent staff and a fortress-like compound covering a city block in the middle of Teheran, no foreign mission other than our own enjoys enough prestige or power to play an effective role in the situation. [2 lines not declassified]

2. An American military mission, headed by Major General Zimmerman and including some 35 officers and about the same number of enlisted men, is in Iran, mostly in Teheran, for Army training purposes. This mission has been the object of vigorous Soviet attack, and as its contract has not been renewed, it is staying on under sufferance. Naturally it has had to stay out of Iranian politics. Consideration might, however, be given as to what if any more active role it could play in the event of a threatened Communist take over.

3. The same applies to the American Gendarmérie Mission headed by Colonel McClelland and composed of 16 American officers and enlisted men.

4. CIA has been maintaining close contact with the Quasqai tribal leaders with the view to eventual organization of resistance in southern Iran if the North should go Communist. A considerable supply of small arms and ammunition has been assembled [less than 1 line not declassified] the nearest safe available base. A considerable amount of cash is available in Teheran. Both the arms and the cash could quickly be supplemented.

5. Although the British have steadfastly denied it, there have been persistent rumors that they have been organizing the southern Iranian tribes with a view to an uprising at an appropriate moment to preserve the southern portion of Iran from Communist control. British contact with these tribes in the past has been close, and this may constitute a contingent asset of some value to the West if the situation deteriorates further.

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The above represents roughly our available assets for use in an emergency. They are hardly adequate. Study is being given the possibility of supplementing them.

Allen Dulles2
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Intelligence, Job 80R01731R, Box 9, Folder 350, White House. Secret; Security Information. A shorter version of this memorandum is printed with redactions in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. X, Iran, 1951–1954, pp. 689–691 (Document 310).
  2. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was signed.