S/S–NSC files, lot 63 D 351, “NSC 136: United States Policy Regarding the Present Situation in Iran”
Statement of Policy Proposed by the National
The Present Situation in Iran
- It is of critical importance to the United States that Iran remain an
independent and sovereign nation, not dominated by the USSR. Because of
its key strategic position, its petroleum resources, its vulnerability
to intervention or armed attack by the USSR, and its vulnerability to
political subversion, Iran must be regarded as a continuing objective of
Soviet expansion. The loss of Iran by default or by Soviet intervention
- Be a major threat to the security of the entire Middle East, including Pakistan and India.
- Permit communist denial to the free world of access to Iranian oil and seriously threaten the loss of other Middle Eastern oil.
- Increase the Soviet Union’s capability to threaten important United States–United Kingdom lines of communication.
- Damage United States prestige in nearby countries and with the exception of Turkey and possibly Pakistan, seriously weaken, if not destroy, their will to resist communist pressures.
- Set off a series of military, political and economic developments, the consequences of which would seriously endanger the security interests of the United States.
- Present trends in Iran are unfavorable to the maintenance of control by a non-communist regime for an extended period of time. In wresting the political initiative from the Shah, the landlords, and other traditional holders of power, the National Front politicians now in power have at least temporarily eliminated every alternative to their own rule except the Communist Tudeh Party. However, the ability of the National Front to maintain control of the situation indefinitely is uncertain. The political upheaval which brought the nationalists to power has heightened popular desire for promised economic and social betterment and has increased social unrest. At the same time, nationalist failure to restore the oil industry to operation has led to near-exhaustion of the government’s financial reserves and to deficit financing to meet current expenses, and is likely to produce a progressive deterioration of the economy at large.
- It is now estimated that communist forces will probably not gain control of the Iranian Government during 1953.2 Nevertheless, [Page 531] the Iranian situation contains very great elements of instability. Any US policy regarding Iran must accordingly take into account the danger that the communists might be enabled to gain the ascendency as a result of such possible developments as a struggle for power within the National Front, more effective communist infiltration of the government than now appears probable, government failure to maintain the security forces and to take effective action against communist activity, or a major crop failure. It is clear that the United Kingdom no longer possesses the capability unilaterally to assure stability in the area. If present trends continue unchecked, Iran could be effectively lost to the free world in advance of an actual communist takeover of the Iranian Government. Failure to arrest present trends in Iran involves a serious risk to the national security of the United States.3
- For the reasons outlined above, the major United States policy
objective with respect to Iran is to prevent the country from coming
under communist control. The United States should, therefore, be
prepared to pursue the policies which would be most effective in
accomplishing this objective. In the light of the present situation the
United States should adopt and pursue the following policies: [Page 532]
- Continue to assist in every practicable way to effect an early and equitable liquidation of the oil controversy.
- Be prepared to take the necessary measures to help Iran to start up her oil industry and to secure markets for her oil so that Iran may benefit from substantial oil revenues.
Be prepared to provide prompt United States budgetary aid to Iran if, pending restoration of her oil industry and oil markets, such aid is necessary to halt a serious deterioration of the financial and political situation in Iran.
In carrying out a, b, and c above, the United States should:
- Maintain full consultation with the United Kingdom.
- Avoid unnecessarily sacrificing legitimate United Kingdom interests or unnecessarily impairing United States–United Kingdom relations.
- Not permit the United Kingdom to veto any United States actions which the United States considers essential to the achievement of the policy objective set forth above.
- Be prepared to avail itself of the authority of the President to approve voluntary agreements and programs under Section 708(a) and (b) of the Defense Production Act of 1950, as amended.
- Recognize the strength of Iranian nationalist feeling; try to direct it into constructive channels and be ready to exploit any opportunity to do so, bearing in mind the desirability of strengthening in Iran the ability and desire of the Iranian people to resist communist pressure.
- Continue present programs of military, economic and technical assistance to the extent they will help to restore stability and increase internal security, and be prepared to increase such assistance to support Iranian resistance to communist pressure.
Encourage the adoption by the Iranian Government of necessary financial, judicial and administrative and other reforms.
. . . . . . .
- Plan now for the eventual inclusion of Iran in any regional defense arrangement which may be developed in the Middle East if such inclusion should later prove feasible.
- In the event of either an attempted or an actual communist seizure of
power in one or more of the provinces of Iran or in Tehran, the United
States should support a non-communist Iranian Government, including
participation in the military support of such a government if necessary
and useful.4 Preparations for such an eventuality should include:
- Plans for the specific military, economic, diplomatic, and psychological measures which should be taken to support a non-communist Iranian Government or to prevent all or part of Iran or adjacent areas from falling under communist domination.
Politico-military discussions with the British Government and such other governments as may be appropriate, with a view to determining (1) courses of action which might be pursued and (2) the allocation of responsibility in carrying out such courses of action in the area.
. . . . . . .
- Perfection of plans concerning the handling of the matter by the United Nations if and when that becomes necessary.
- In the event that a communist government achieves complete control of Iran so rapidly that no non-communist5 Iranian Government is available to request assistance, the position of the United States would have to be determined in the light of the situation at the time, although politico-military-economic discussions leading to plans for meeting such a situation should be carried on with the British Government and with such other governments as may be appropriate.6 In this contingency, the United States should make every feasible effort,… to endeavor to develop or maintain localized centers of resistance and to harass, undermine, and if possible, to bring about the overthrow of the communist government.
- In the event of a Soviet attack by organized USSR military forces
against Iran, the United States in common prudence would have to proceed
on the assumption that global war is probably imminent. Accordingly, the
United States should then immediately:
- Decide in the light of the circumstances existing at the time
whether to attempt to localize action or to treat it as a casus belli. In either case necessary
measures should include direct diplomatic action and resort to
the United Nations with the objectives of:
- Making clear to the world the aggressive character of the Soviet action.
- Making clear to the world United States preference for a peaceful solution and the conditions upon which the United States would, in concert with other members of the United Nations, accept such a settlement.
- Obtaining the authorization of the United Nations for member nations to take appropriate action in the name of the United Nations to assist Iran.
- Consider a direct approach to the highest Soviet leaders.
- Place itself in the best possible position to meet the increased threat of global war.
- Consult with selected allies to perfect coordinated plans.
- Take action against the aggressor to the extent and in the manner which would best contribute to the security of the United States.
- Prepare to maintain, if necessary, an Iranian Government-in-exile.
This proposed statement of policy, along with a cover sheet, a memorandum, and a background note, all dated Nov. 20, from James S. Lay, Jr., Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, were circulated to members of the National Security Council, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Attorney General, and the Director of Defense Mobilization for their information as NSC 136/1 of Nov. 20, 1952, “United States Policy Regarding the Present Situation in Iran”.
Lay explained in the memorandum and in the background note as well that President Truman, on Nov. 20, had approved NSC 136, as amended and adopted by the National Security Council at its 125th meeting on Nov. 19 (NSC Action No. 680; see footnote 3, Document 238); that the President directed the Secretary of State to coordinate its implementation by all the appropriate executive departments and agencies of the U.S. Government; that NSC 136, as amended, was being issued as NSC 136/1; and, furthermore, that NSC 107/2, “The Position of the United States with Respect to Iran”, was superseded by NSC 136/1.
Regarding the drafting history of NSC 136/1, see supra.↩
- See NIE–75, “Probable Developments in Iran Through 1953,” published November 6, 1952. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
In the Nov. 6 draft of the statement of policy (see supra), paragraphs 2 and 3 read as follows:
- “2. The situation in Iran presents widening opportunities to the communist organization there. Social unrest is spreading in the wake of nationalist agitation and of disruption of the traditional structure of Iranian leadership and institutions. Government promises of early prosperity following eviction of the British Oil Company have not been fulfilled. On the contrary, the inability of the interested parties to reach an oil settlement and the inability of Iran to dispose of its oil have contributed to a worsening of economic conditions. The resulting popular bewilderment and frustration have increased receptivity to communist propaganda and agitation. The Government’s budgetary difficulties as a result of the loss of oil revenue have led to currency inflation, almost complete curtailment of public works, and fears that Iran’s military forces and civil administration may soon face demoralizing reductions in size and pay. Meanwhile, nationalist politicians, in their vanity and selfishness, show little understanding of the true nature of the communist threat and are vulnerable to communist efforts to infiltrate the nationalist movement.
- “3. It is now estimated that communist forces will probably not gain control of the Iranian Government during 1953. Nevertheless the Iranian situation contains very great elements of instability and there is a continuing danger of serious communist infiltration of the National Front and the Government bureaucracy. It is clear that the United Kingdom no longer possesses the capability unilaterally to assure stability in the area. Therefore if present trends continue unchecked, Iran could be effectively lost to the free world before an actual communist take-over of the Iranian Government. Failure to arrest present trends in Iran involves a serious risk to the national security of the United States.”
A footnote after the first sentence in paragraph 3 in the Nov. 6 draft of the statement of policy reads as follows:
“See NIE–75, ‘Probable Developments in Iran Through 1953’, approved November 6, 1952.” (S/P–NSC files, lot 61 D 167, “Iran, US Policy Regarding the Present Situation, NSC 117, 136, 136/1”)
- If it is found necessary for the United States to provide military forces in this area, implementation will require either a substantial augmentation of over-all United States forces or a reduction of present United States military commitments elsewhere. [Footnote in the source text. This footnote did not appear in the Nov. 6 draft statement of policy. (S/P–NSC files, lot 61 D 167, “Iran, US Policy Regarding the Present Situation, NSC 117, 136, 136/1”)]↩
- The word “legal” rather than “non-communist” appeared in the Nov. 6 draft statement of policy. (S/P–NSC files, lot 61 D 167, “Iran, US Policy Regarding the Present Situation, NSC 117, 136, 136/1”)↩
- The phrase “and with such other governments as may be appropriate” did not appear in the Nov. 6 draft statement of policy. Rather, the phrase “and, as appropriate, with the Turkish Government” appeared in its place. (S/P–NSC files, lot 61 D 167, “Iran, US Policy Regarding the Present Situation, NSC 117, 136, 136/1”)↩