No. 234
The Secretary of State to the Secretary of Defense (Lovett) 1

top secret

My Dear Mr. Secretary: There is much in your letter to me of October 242 on Iran with which, as you already know, I am in full agreement. In order for us to proceed on a constructive line with some degree of assurance, I think we need considerably greater precision on a number of the concrete and difficult problems involved.

For sometime it has been clear and we have been acting on the assumption that if Iran is to be saved the initiative and, in the last analysis, the responsibility would have to come from us rather than from the British. This is even clearer now that Iran has broken diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. There remains, however, the point that the United Kingdom is the most important element of strength in the Western alliance outside of the United States.

[Page 511]

The objective of our policy must be to save Iran without unnecessarily damaging our relations with the United Kingdom. I think you seriously underestimate the depth of feeling throughout Great Britain over this question. In their view the British have made very real concessions to Mossadeq and have come a long way to meet him in the past year. They believe that in return Mossadeq has become more and more unreasonable. In short, they believe that we have pushed them hard and far without result and this has left an undercurrent of resentment. I believe that unilateral and uncoordinated action on our part will not lead to British acceptance nor to “a sense of relief to know that their heavy burdens in the general area will henceforth be shared.” On the contrary, I think it could do deep and lasting harm to our alliance, and would also have repercussions with respect to the French, Turks and other partners in NATO. This does not mean that we should accept a United Kingdom veto of any action which the United States considers it must take to save Iran; it does mean that we should so conduct ourselves as to take proper account of legitimate United Kingdom interests and should act only after full consultation with the United Kingdom.

For the past nineteen months we have pressed the British to make a variety of concessions to the Iranians. We have done this not because we regarded the British position as necessarily unreasonable but rather because we have been more sensitive than they to the wider dangers inherent in the Iranian situation. You will have seen the cables covering our recent discussions in London in which there was evidence of a further relaxation in the British position. We believe these conversations opened up a number of possibilities, depending upon what we ourselves are prepared to do.

One of the concrete problems in securing a resumption of the flow of Iranian oil is to determine whom it is we can call on, and who is able in fact, to move Iranian oil in the volume which is required to save Iran. As you have indicated, the independents are not in a position to give us any real help. You were present at our recent meeting with the Attorney General and understand the problem presented in asking for the assistance of the major oil companies in moving Iran’s oil.3 The laws of the United States [Page 512] must, of course, be upheld. We believe that legislative authority exists for a program which would be helpful in this difficult situation. We shall need your assistance and that of the Attorney General in developing these ideas further.

Another of the concrete problems is that of providing immediate economic assistance to Iran in adequate volume. You will recall the considerations which were involved in determining if we could, in the joint proposals, offer to make as much as $10 million in grant assistance available to Iran and the difficulties which were foreseen in even suggesting that any further sums might be forthcoming. I do not believe the problem of finding the necessary funds is unsolvable, but again we shall need your assistance if a workable program is to be developed.

In your letter you say that events have forced primary responsibility for Iran on the United States regardless of our wishes or those of the British. It has seemed to us for sometime that an even broader problem faces us. This broader problem relates to the degree to which events may force us to assume responsibility in the wider areas of the Middle East and our capabilities for meeting this responsibility. Our policy should take into account the strength as well as the weakness of the British position in the area. Indeed, we believe that it is only by correlating our efforts with the British that the limited resources available to us for the area can be employed with any lasting effectiveness in developing stability and a capability of defense in the Middle East.

If we are to assume added responsibilities with something better than guesswork as a basis, we should have an estimate of the military force requirements involved and an estimate of our capabilities in conjunction with our Allies in meeting these requirements. We have been trying to obtain such estimates for over a year. The State Department having been unable to obtain such estimates through its normal liaison channels with the Pentagon, we wrote you on August 15 suggesting that you request the Joint Chiefs of Staff to undertake a preliminary study of the essential requirements.4 We were originally told that we could expect at least a tentative [Page 513] answer within thirty days. In your letter of October 28, you tell me that nothing can be expected before early in 1953.5 You say the question is an extremely complex one and decisions in regard to it will have a decided impact on our strategic objectives elsewhere. It is precisely because of this difficulty that the problem in Iran does not lend itself to any facile solution. We have many interests that must be protected, and the Defense Department could be most helpful if, when supporting the position that the United States may well have to assume potentially very great additional responsibilities in the Middle East, it could give us an indication of the military requirements and capabilities which would be involved so that our planning can go forward on a sounder basis.

I shall be very glad indeed to continue to explore these matters with you recognizing their urgency and importance.6

Sincerely yours,

Dean Acheson
  1. Drafted by Nitze and cleared in substance with Matthews, Byroade, Bonbright, and Linder.
  2. In his letter of Oct. 24, Lovett stated his conviction that, given the deteriorating situation in Iran, the United States had to take immediate action to prevent Iran’s loss to communism. He believed British policy had failed; that the United States could no longer rely on British initiative; and that events had, therefore, forced primary responsibility for Iran on the United States. He recommended prompt American political and economic action to bolster the Iranian Government and to revive Iran’s oil industry. Such actions, he said, to save Iran appeared painful, costly, and dangerous, but, he warned, they would require only a small fraction of the money, material, manpower and anguish that would have to be expended if it were necessary to hold Iran by military action to save such a strategically placed nation from communism. Moreover, he urged action even if it damaged U.S. close relations with the United Kingdom. (888.2553/10–2452)
  3. At a meeting on Oct. 8 with Attorney General McGranery, Secretary of the Treasury Snyder, Secretary of Defense Lovett, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Bradley, Secretary Acheson asked if it would be legally possible, if necessary, for the major American oil companies to ship Iranian oil in their tankers if the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company refused in order to make money available to Mosadeq from the sale of such oil and thereby make him amenable to concluding a settlement of the oil dispute. The Attorney General believed it would be most difficult to work out such a program involving the major companies and at the same time maintain the U.S. Government’s antitrust action against them. Such a course of action, he thought, would cause the collapse of the antitrust suit. Secretary Acheson then asked if it was possible to form a company which would include American oil firms presently transacting no business in Iran and then have this new company sell the oil to AIOC. Attorney General McGranery and his assistant, Leonard Emmerglick, maintained that such an arrangement would constitute a cartel, which was also in violation of the American antitrust law. (888.2553/10–852) For documentation on the antitrust action against petroleum companies, see vol. i, Part 2, pp. 1259 ff.
  4. For text, see vol. ix, Part 1, p. 266.
  5. See ibid., p. 267, footnote 3.
  6. Secretary of Defense Lovett replied on Nov. 12 that he hoped Secretary Acheson had not misunderstood his attitude toward the need for unilateral American action in Iran. He continued to believe that prompt American action with or without British approval was necessary. However, he had never contemplated uncoordinated action in the sense of failing to consult with the British or to advise them of American intentions. (888.2553/11–1252)