888.2553/5–1651: Telegram

No. 22
The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Gifford) to the Department of State1

top secret

5966. Embassy becoming increasingly concerned re growing speculation here in press that UK preparing use force in Iran. Announcement that one sixth Paratroop Brigade alerted (Embtel 5940, May 152) and failure of govt to deny press deductions that brigade may be used Iran has further stimulated belligerent atmosphere.

[Page 55]

In this atmosphere, Emb fears that when new Brit aide-mémoire is presented Mossadeq and its contents become public, ref to “most serious consequences” will inevitably be interpreted here and abroad as intention to use force. Yet, from everything Brit tell us, no decision re use force has yet been taken. Moreover, FonOff yesterday reiterated that no such decision will be taken without further consultations with US.

Against this background we fear that Brit, having made implied threat use force, may eventually be faced with alternatives of either, against their better judgment, making good on this threat and risking unpredictable consequences or backing down and suffering resultant loss prestige and perhaps fatal weakening of their position.

It is our estimate that ultimate UK decision whether or not to use force will be in last analysis determined by extent to which US prepared support. In this connection, we have been disturbed by convs with Eastern Dept officials yesterday re talks in Wash over weekend. They seem to have impression that differences between us re use of force are not very large and can probably be overcome. They summarize differences by saying that whereas Dept willing consider possible desirability using force in event Tudeh coup, FonOff feels we shld realistically understand situation deteriorating in Iran and a door may be opened to Tudeh. We shld therefore consider possibility anticipatory use for force to forestall loss of oil fields to Tudeh if we are unable otherwise contain situation. We pointed out we felt this difference was very wide indeed and that it shld not be minimized by FonOff. We stressed Dept’s grave misgivings re use of force beyond that required evacuate UK nationals unless open Sov intervention or Tudeh coup (Deptel 5208, May 12 [11]3). We pointed out some of dangers inherent in anticipatory action, including probable adverse reaction on part many members UN, possibility of action serving as excuse for Russian intervention from north under 1921 treaty and possible revulsion which wld occur in other ME states. Eastern Dept officials said all these factors had been considered. While recognizing probability initial adverse UN reaction, they nevertheless felt that, over longer period, most members wld welcome forthright Brit action. Re Sovs, they seemed feel that if they desired intervene Iran, they wld do so regardless Brit action. Finally, they thought use of force wld have beneficial effect and restore UK prestige other ME countries.

While foregoing views may not represent considered view FonOff or UK Govt, we are disturbed find them so prevalent in Eastern Dept.

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There is another facet to this problem which Tehran should more properly comment on than this Emb, i.e., whether UK is not making psychological mistake in asserting that it is unwilling to negotiate with Mossadeq under duress, while saying in effect at same time that Mossadeq must negotiate with them under threat of duress. We feel that at present stage (especially when new factor has been introduced in sit by apparent UK willingness to negotiate settlement involving some form of nationalization) UK might better remove from note reference to “most serious consequences” and play down possible use of force by such means as denying that paratroop brigade being alerted for use in Iran. We suggest Dept may wish give urgent consideration to discussing above with Brit Emb.

Emb wld not want foregoing be interpreted as indicating that it does not believe that use of force may not be required at some later stage. Main point we wish to make, however, is that UK should not make or appear to make any threat of force until decision is made to carry it out in event of necessity.

Obviously, happiest way out of whole dilemma wld be success in persuading Mossadeq to negotiate and to be reasonable. For this reason, Emb considers it of utmost importance that we support UK to greatest possible degree in forthcoming UK approach.4

  1. Repeated to Tehran.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Printed as telegram 2088, supra.
  4. On May 16 Gifford was informed that McGhee told Steel that the United States saw grave dangers in the introduction of British troops in Iran in connection with the oil dispute and therefore could not support any plan contemplating such use, or the threat of such use, of force. This position was approved by Matthews and Secretary Acheson and reaffirmed by the latter in a conversation with Ambassador Franks on May 17. (Telegram 5259 to London and memorandum by McGhee, both dated May 17; 888.2553/5–1651 and 5–1751)