780.5/12–353: Telegram

No. 163
The Ambassador in Iran (Henderson) to the Department of State

top secret

1229. Limit distribution. Re Department telegram 1263.1 Reply dated November 23 to Jernegan’s letter November 92 supplementing information contained Embassy telegrams 1102 and 11033 en route by pouch which left Tehran November 28. View slow pouch service summary follows:

In recent conversations with Shah during which latter urged early decision as to nature Iranian defense forces we will support, his attitude was that until Iran has army capable of putting up some kind defense would be useless to discuss multilateral security arrangements. He did not, however, state as corollary that he willing undertake such arrangements if Iranian army built up, although that appears to be his train of thought. Two principal elements his thinking apparently are, first, Iran should be more on basis equality in military capabilities before seriously considering mutual defense arrangements and, second, combined strength of participating countries should be enough to discourage Russian aggression.
Our recent proposals for revision policy re Iran and increase military aid not only for purpose making it possible for Iran later to undertake joint arrangements with other countries but also, and primarily, for immediate political and psychological reasons. Believe, however, it possible Iran will, in perhaps one or two years, be willing move in direction joint arrangements assuming (a) early oil settlement, (b) continuation in power of government friendly towards West which cooperates fully with Shah and which has widespread public support, and (c) steady though not necessarily spectacular increase in capability Iranian army.
Here, however, we confronted with something of dilemma in light indication reference letter that increase in military aid to [Page 437]Iran (and allotment funds Iraq and Pakistan) might be predicated on regional defense arrangements in being which would make possible joint planning of Western powers with Middle East States. In effect Shah says he cannot consider cooperative arrangements until army improved; we would be saying we cannot build up army until defense arrangements concluded.
Cost of additional military aid outlined in reference Embassy telegrams, main additional expense being fiscal year 1955. As Shah pointed out, if there no settlement of oil problem that would enable Iranians to do their part in maintaining forces contemplated, plans can be changed at later date when this should become clear. In other words he urges us now to act with optimism in order inspire optimism.
Re specific question as to whether Shah and government would be willing and strong enough now or in foreseeable future to risk domestic and foreign repercussions of public alliance with Western orientated group even though that group not directly and formally tied to Western powers, future prospects this country are at this juncture so cloudy it would be impossible to give definitive answer. It clear, however, that even if Shah himself were persuaded it would be good idea, situation not now such that action this kind would receive the public support which would be required. Possibility change this atmosphere contingent primarily on assumptions enumerated paragraph (2) above.
Meanwhile although present government in balance seems to be holding its own it confronted with number immediate problems the decision upon any one of which could cause grave complications. Public reaction to government’s disposition these matters; ability of government to continue maintain security and effectively quell opposition; and degree continued cooperation between government and Shah, are points which will have heavy bearing upon very future of Iran. Iranian Government will thus be too pressed in immediate period ahead for it to consider at this time injection of another issue, i.e. mutual defense arrangements, which it can avoid and which at best would incur widespread internal opposition and new external pressures. Probably no real progress can be made in obtaining Iranian decision this matter until other problems more pressing to them are solved and resultant public attitudes determined. Even then any concrete action should be preceded by substantial period public orientation to need for collective defense measures and desirability of “getting off fence” in cold war, which would be entirely new departure for most Iranians.
Foregoing bears also upon timing and procedures to be adopted. Situation Pakistan and Turkey substantially different than Iran. Believe it would be useful at proper time if Turks and Pakistani [Page 438]would, if not take lead in discussions with Iran and Iraq, closely associate themselves with any proposals which might be put forward, although fact that favorable action by Iran and Iraq would probably be predicated upon firm commitments from us in matter of military aid would seem to exclude our staying in background even if it should otherwise be desirable to do so. Understand from reference letter some thought being given to our supporting an arrangement between any two of four countries, and if we prepared do this it appears Turkey and Pakistan will be ready long before Iran and perhaps Iraq.
Believe British must be brought into picture at early stage and certainly before any definitive discussions with Iran, Iraq or Pakistan in all of which they have particular interest. Unlikely arrangements this type could be undertaken without British cooperation and it would in my judgement be mistake to risk British learning even of preliminary overtures to these countries without our having talked matter over with them fully and agreed to policies and procedures.
Same applies though to lesser extent to France who is joint sponsor MEDO concept which would be superseded by new proposals. It appears, however, it less essential to effect close collaboration with France in very early stages but that this should be done at some appropriate time before things move too far.
Indian policies under Nehru undoubtedly will be unalterably opposed to participation by Asian countries in measures this kind. India likely oppose military aid to Pakistan whether or not such aid related defense organization. Unlikely of course Indian attitude would have much bearing on Pakistan decision. I am encouraged by comment we may decide risk Indian opposition to aid Pakistan even without pact.
However we should not overlook importance which Iran attaches to India. Strong adverse Indian reaction could have heavy influence here. Evidence that Indian Ambassador here already has been endeavoring discourage Iranians from any idea of participating security pact. Also extent to which Indian attitude will influence British is a consideration having important bearing on practicability of proposals.

  1. Not printed; this was the same as telegram 591 to Ankara. See footnote 2, supra.
  2. Document 157.
  3. Neither printed. For a summary of telegram 1102, see footnote 4, Document 159.