205. Despatch From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1

No. 975


  • Embassy Despatch 953, May 15, 19532


  • Further Conversation with Source Close to Shah

There is attached for the information of the Department a memorandum of a conversation which I had on May 17 with an emissary of the Shah in the presence of several members of the Embassy. A previous talk with this same source was summarized in the above referenced despatch.

Loy W. Henderson


[Page 565]


Memorandum of Conversation


  • The Ambassador
  • Source
  • Commander Pollard, Naval Attaché
  • Mr. Melbourne, First Secretary of Embassy
  • Mr. Cunningham, Third Secretary of Embassy

At approximately 9 p.m. on the evening of May 17, an emissary of the Shah met the Ambassador and the other officers listed above in order to deliver a message from the Shah. He stated that the same message would probably be repeated to the Ambassador the next day by Mr. Amini, but that he, the source, was, in addition, bringing private comments from the Shah which would not be entrusted to Amini. The message was to the effect that:

a) The Mosadeq Government was prepared to support the West surreptitiously, while pretending to be neutral, and would take firm measures against communists in Iran if the Shah would agree to support the Government.

b) The Mosadeq Government would accept substantial financial or economic aid from the United States Government, provided that the United States Government did not insist that, in return for such aid, Iran openly renounce its avowed policy of neutrality and indicate publicly that it was a part of the free world.

c) The Shah had agreed to the condition of cooperation contained in a) above.

The Shah’s private comments upon this message were that he would cease giving apparent support to the Mosadeq Government if Mosadeq undertook to undermine him, particularly his position with regard to the Army. In fact, if Mosadeq insisted on relieving the Shah of the latter’s responsibilities with regard to the Army, the Shah would leave Iran.

The Shah expressed concern over the announcement appearing currently in the Iranian press to the effect that the courts had decided that the Tudeh Party (communist-front party) was not in any way acting contrary to the Constitution and laws of Iran and that, therefore, there was no case against Iranian subjects who were being prosecuted as leaders of that party. The Shah said that if this announcement was [Page 566] true, it would seem to him that Mosadeq had already forfeited any claim he might have had to the Shah’s support.

The Sovereign felt that the United States should use its present bargaining position, arising from Dr. Mosadeq’s great eagerness to obtain United States support, to force a change in Mosadeq’s attitude towards indigenous communist groups. Such a change could take the form of strong measures against the Tudeh Party and would involve the dismissal of the fellow-traveler Minister of Justice on the pretext that he acted without authority in liberating communist leaders. The Shah believed that Mosadeq was desperate enough to accept these terms as the price of United States support.

The Ambassador pointed out to the source that such an approach on the part of the United States would tend to under-emphasize the importance of obtaining a settlement of the compensation problem. Mosadeq might, therefore, gain the impression that, by making certain concessions to the West, in the matter of dealing more firmly with Iranian communists, he could obtain substantial economic aid from the United States regardless of the fact that Iran had not agreed to pay compensation for the losses resulting to the AIOC from the nationalization of oil.

The source commented that Mosadeq, his supporters, and the Iranian people generally were convinced that they could obtain American aid without having arrived at any solution in the oil problem simply because the United States could not permit the increase in communist influence which would result from further economic deterioration of the country. The Shah, he said, suggested the issuance of an official statement by the United States, making it very clear to Iran and to the world that there could be no further American aid until at least definite willingness to achieve a solution of the oil problem had been demonstrated. It was pointed out that, were such a declaration to be issued at this time, Mosadeq could reply that he had offered to initiate conversations with the British regarding compensation for oil and had been turned down. The source then suggested that attempts be made to induce the British to begin conversations with Mosadeq, so that when such conversations broke down, as they surely would, the United States could issue the declaration in question without leaving itself open to the Mosadeq rejoinder.

In the Shah’s opinion, said his emissary, no settlement of the oil question was possible so long as Mosadeq remained Prime Minister. The Shah was convinced that Mosadeq should be overthrown by action of the Majlis, but felt that covert means must be employed to prevail upon the Majlis to act. Specifically, such underground means would include material aid and encouragement from the United States to General Fazlollah Zahedi and Dr. Mozaffar Baqai. The Shah was sure that [Page 567] both of these men were upright, loyal, and sincere, and that the best chance for Iran to find a way out of its difficulties was for General Zahedi to become Prime Minister.

Although the Shah had given no outward sign of his advocacy of Zahedi, it was merely because he realized that any such sign would only serve to intensify the Mosadeq Government’s persecution of the General. The emissary conceded that a few months ago the Shah might not have been so favorably disposed toward Zahedi, but said that recent developments had convinced him that Zahedi represented Iran’s only chance out of its current dilemma.

One factor which retarded the Shah’s change of heart with regard to Zahedi was the fact that Hosein Ala, when Minister of Court, was quite suspicious of Zahedi and regarded him as just another ambitious military man. The mention of Ala’s name introduced a digression concerning his part in the crisis over the Shah’s intended departure and subsequent decision to remain in Iran. The source maintained Ala was initially in favor of the Shah’s leaving Iran, but that, after Ambassador Henderson’s discussions with him, he changed his mind and exerted all his influence to persuade the Shah to remain. (The Ambassador is convinced that Ala was opposed to the Shah’s departure from the very beginning.) Ala was dismissed as Minister of Court only because of Mosadeq’s pressure, not because Ala had offended the Shah; Mosadeq held Ala responsible for the blow to his political prestige resulting from the February 28 crisis.

The Shah felt that Ala, though completely honest and loyal, was nevertheless stupid; the emissary commented that one often has more to fear from stupid friends than from intelligent enemies. When Ala was Minister of Court, the Shah tended to open his heart to him, but found that sometimes Ala innocently passed along the Shah’s confidential remarks to Dr. Mosadeq. As matters now stood, the Shah had no confidence in Mr. Amini, told him nothing he did not want Dr. Mosadeq to hear, and so could not be betrayed.

Returning to the question of support for General Zahedi, the source outlined the Shah’s views regarding the present political alignment in Iran. On the one hand, there was a clique consisting of Moazami, Fatemi, and the Amini family, with Maki on the fringe as opposed to Mosadeq’s policies, which was attempting to gain control of the key positions in the Government. These men contemplated keeping Dr. Mosadeq ostensibly in power, realizing that his day was done and using him as a front for their own activities and as an ever-present threat against the Shah. They realized that no one except, as the emissary put it, a man as insane as Mosadeq would dare to flout the Shah’s prestige as the present Prime Minister has done. On the other side, there was a group led by General Zahedi and Dr. Baqai, who wished to [Page 568] overthrow Mosadeq and bring a semblance of sanity and purpose to the Iranian Government. The Ganjei faction and other independents would throw in their lot with the stronger of these two parties when a showdown occurred.

The Shah’s representative emphasized that Baqai was in no way involved in the murder of General Afshartus. In fact, it was Baqai who asked the generals now under arrest for the murder to involve his name in their confessions in order that he might be able to reply to these accusations and use the opportunity to lay many accusations of his own at the door of Dr. Mosadeq. Baqai, being a courageous man and being endowed with parliamentary immunity, was in a better position than most to attack Mosadeq.

The source affirmed as a personal comment that the United States Government must not conclude from the Shah’s inactivity that he was weak. The Shah was merely being extremely cautious, having been betrayed so often in the past that he wished to take no chances now. However, the Shah recognized these most worthy of trust and had made the obvious choice between the MoazamiFatemiAmini faction, which he believed would be disloyal to him and would ruin Iran, and the ZahediBaqai group, which would respect him and try to save the country.

The Shah believes that financial aid from the United States to the Zahedi faction could be transmitted through Ardeshir Zahedi, the General’s son, who was absolutely honest, and suggested that it could be intimated to those who received it from Ardeshir that the money came from the Shah. Since the Shah’s accounts were closely controlled and supervised by Mosadeq partisans, he could give Zahedi no economic support of any kind. In order to bring about the final collapse of the Mosadeq Government, he suggested that the United States might induce Mosadeq to turn against the Tudeh Party, as outlined earlier. Once he had done this, Mosadeq would be forced to lean on the Court and the Majlis for support. If his power in the Majlis had been undermined by covert support to Zahedi and Baqai and if the Court refused to assist him in any way, Mosadeq would be doomed. The Shah wished to initiate no domestic action himself against Mosadeq; he felt that, having achieved power by parliamentary means, Mosadeq should fall by similar means, without apparent royal intervention.

It was brought out that the Shah had been greatly distressed by what he believed to be evidence of United States support of Mosadeq and his partisans and of Maleki, a confirmed opponent of the Shah. The emissary was assured that this was an erroneous impression; the United States had not actively supported the Mosadeq faction in any way, and had suspended assistance to Maleki as soon as it was realized that he worked against the Shah. The source reaffirmed that the Shah [Page 569] was deeply grateful for the role played by the United States in Iranian affairs in the past few years.

The emissary brought out the Shah’s deep concern regarding the British Government’s attitude toward him. Apparently some of the Shah’s associates, professing to speak for the British Government, were, in fact, merely attempting to further their own ends and should be definitively neutralized by a communication from the British Government to the Shah. The source considered that through the Embassy a statement of views regarding the Shah might be obtained from the British and conveyed to the Shah. The Ambassador pointed out to the source that, although the British might feel that the Shah had not been as firm as he should have been, they were in no way opposed to him. In fact, their stand in the February 28 crisis gave ample evidence of their favorable attitude toward the Shah.3

As an afterthought, the Shah’s representative stated that Mr. Amini, in his May 18 interview with the Ambassador, might suggest that the Ambassador induce Dr. Mosadeq to replace General Riahi as Chief of Staff with General Mahmoud Amini. The Minister of Court would suggest that the Ambassador tell Dr. Mosadeq that, as proof of his good faith, he should remove General Riahi, whose alleged connection with the Iran Party rendered him antagonistic to the United States, and replace him with General Amini. Amini was in no way acceptable to the Shah as Chief of Staff and the Shah, although initially doubtful of Riahi’s suitability, was gaining increasing confidence in him.

The points enumerated above were then summarized to ensure that the Shah’s representative and the Ambassador clearly understood each other and the meeting ended at about 12:30 [a.m.].

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 788.00/5–1953. Top Secret; Security Information. Received May 27. A copy was pouched to London. Both the despatch and the attached memorandum of conversation were drafted by Cunningham.
  2. Document 204.
  3. See Document 210.