788.11/2–2853: Telegram

No. 308
The Ambassador in Iran (Henderson) to the Department of State1

top secret

3449. Early this morning stories regarding imminent departure Shah pouring in from many sources. These stories had conflicting details. Altho some reflected confusion and bewilderment, there seemed be general impression that Shah’s decision depart was in some way connected with friction between him and Prime Minister. Most common version was that Shah had decided leave because Mosadeq was threatening if Shah did not do so he would issue proclamation to country criticizing Shah and asking people to choose between Shah and himself.

Embassy Attaché reported that at dinner yesterday evening attended by Bazaar merchants, Qashqai Chieftain Khosro, and others, rumors of Shah’s departure in immediate future was chief source conversation. Practically all guests present, with exception Khosro, who privately expressed gratification that Shah was leaving, indicated in their opinion Shah’s departure would be detrimental to interests country. Similarly at dinner attended by myself last evening editor of largest newspaper in country and chief protocol Foreign Office told me of rumors expressing their concern at ultimate effects on country.

I decided this morning that since news was now out I was more free than hitherto to try to effect cancellation or at least postponement Shah’s plans leave country. Unable obtain appointment with Foreign Minister I was able arrange see Ala, Minister Court, at 11:15. Ala had just returned from audience with Shah. He told me he had done utmost persuade Shah at last moment not to leave. Shah however was determined insisting that if he did not depart Mosadeq would issue proclamation attacking him and members his family; it would be difficult for him without necessary facilities effectively to answer charges which would be made against him. He preferred leave country to becoming involved in one-sided squabble. Ala said that while he was with Shah word had been received that at instance Kashani, President Majlis, who claimed to have heard news of Shah’s departure only this morning, informal closed meeting of some 57 members Majlis was taking place to discuss situation. When Shah received this news he had become excited and insisted on leaving at once before lunch because he was [Page 686] afraid that if he did not get away so much pressure would be brought upon him that he would have difficulty leaving without incident.…

. . . . . . .

…At that moment messenger informed Ala that Bureau of Majlis had arrived with request that Ala arrange for it deliver urgent message to Shah. I returned to Embassy.

On my arrival I learned that members Majlis in secret session had decided send message to Shah to effect that his departure from country at this time would be inadvisable. I was also told by acting Air Attaché that Chief Air Staff had just informed him that General Baharmast Chief of Staff was en route Palace to inform Shah that whole General Staff had decided to resign in case Shah should leave country. Thus far unable to obtain confirmation firmness of resolve General Staff in this respect.

Baharmast not strong character and he might well wilt in delivering General Staff message to Shah. General Zimmerman thinks Baharmast rather weak character.

I decided make endeavor see Prime Minister at once and asked Saleh Embassy Iranian Adviser seek appointment. Saleh learned from Mosadeq Secretary that Prime Minister in Palace with Shah. At Saleh’s request Secretary left at once for Palace to tell Mosadeq I wished see him urgently. I called on Mosadeq at 1:15.

Mosadeq back in bed apparently suffering from severe headache. He received me in friendly though guarded manner. I told him I coming without awaiting instructions from Washington in view of what seem to me urgency of situation. Widespread rumors throughout city that Shah was leaving Iran at once because if he did not do so Prime Minister would issue proclamation denouncing him and family. As friend of Iran and as his personal friend I considered it my duty tell him that departure Shah just now would tend confirm these rumors. Support of Iran independence was basic policy re Iran. In my opinion and I sure my opinion represented that of US Government Shah’s hasty departure in these circumstances would weaken security country and I therefore, had come to him in hope that he could take some last minute measure to prevail on Shah not to leave or at least to postpone his departure. Mosadeq replied Shah preferred to leave country. He did not request him do so and was not in position order him not to do so. At this very moment groups of persons including representatives British agents were in Palace trying persuade Shah not leave. Some of these people had entered Palace while he was telling Shah farewell and had made unnecessary scenes. Shah was receiving these people [Page 687] freely and could decide for himself what to do. I asked Prime Minister why it was necessary for him to issue proclamation which clearly would be critical of Shah unless Shah left. Prime Minister replied he could not institute necessary reforms or obtain solution oil problem so long as court served as basis of operations of British agents who were trying stir up dissension in country. Unity was necessary if Iran was successfully to emerge from present crisis. I told Prime Minister had myself some knowledge of Shah’s attitude and I convinced Shah not engaging in or countenancing participation of court in activities against interest Iran.

Prime Minister maintained that people around Shah were causing great injury to country. After some discussion it became clear it quite useless endeavor prevail on Prime Minister alter his attitude. I told Prime Minister regretted having troubled him personally at time when I knew he harassed with many worries. I had hoped discuss matter in preliminary way with Foreign Minister but had been unable to obtain appointment today. I had therefore called on Ala who clearly was not in position deny Shah was leaving almost immediately. My call on Prime Minister had been prompted by hope that latter would cooperate in preventing developments which might ultimately if not almost immediately have consequences unfavorable to Iran. Prime Minister said it would be better for me if I did not make call on Ala or anyone else connected with court at this critical time.… Prime Minister altered his attitude and in more friendly manner repeated that he was not insisting that Shah leave country. If Shah did not do so he had no choice other than to issue proclamation to Iran people. I said that in his political career he had undoubtedly on previous occasions found it possible to prevent differences from developing into open conflict which would be harmful to country. Was he sure that he had no alternative other than to issue proclamation critical of Shah and court unless Shah should leave country? Prime Minister said he had given this matter much thought and he considered that he was following proper course.

Before departing I gave Prime Minister note amending alternative text of original Compensation Agreement as suggested in London telegram 194, Feb. 27, repeated Department 4838.2 We agreed that in case of press inquiries both he and I should merely state that during course my visit I had corrected minor omission in one of documents which I had handed him on February 20.
On my way to Prime Minister’s residence I found all neigboring streets blocked with soldiers. On my departure 50 minutes later observed still more soldiers. Groups of persons in surly mood apparently [Page 688] ready for demonstrations of some kind were observed gathering in vicinity.3
  1. Transmitted in four sections; also sent to London, Baghdad, Ankara, and Dhahran.
  2. Not printed. (888.2553/2–2753)
  3. Jernegan and Richards informed Henderson on Feb. 28 that they concurred completely with Henderson’s decision to take the measures, which he had reported in telegram 3449 from Tehran, to discourage the Shah’s departure. (Telegram 2254; 788.11/2–2853)