788.55/11–1453: Telegram

No. 385
The Ambassador in Iran (Henderson) to the Department of State1

top secret

1102. 1. During each my last four conversations with Shah, that is, those on October 14, October 22, October 27 and November 10, he has continued to press matter of future Iranian defense forces and to insist that early decision be made so there would be minimum amount delay in preparing clearcut defense plans including those for rearming, reorganizing, and training defense forces. He has also on several occasions sent me inquiries this regard through Ala, Minister Court (Deptel 979 October 10 (repeated London 1921).2

2. During some these conversations Shah has taken rather positive tone. For instance, in that October 14, he told me decision as to whether Iranian Army is to be reorganized, re-equipped, and retrained so that it would serve:

Merely as police force to maintain internal order, or
Both as police force and defense force capable delaying progress of enemy if Iran should be invaded was one which would have profound effect not only on future army but also on that of country. It would not be possible keep Iranian Armed Forces and people in general perpetually ignorant re type decision made since developments emanating from that decision would eventually become clear. If decision should be that outlined in (a) above patriotic Iranian would become discouraged and strength of elements anxious for Iran to fall behind Iron Curtain would be enhanced. What pride could army officers have in their organization if they should learn it not being prepared put up at least holding defense against foreign invasion? How much respect would Iranians have for their armed forces if they should come to realization these forces were not expected defend their country from invasion? As result of preoccupation of country with Mosadeq’s Nationalistic movement, attention had been diverted during recent years from army. If however Iranian life should become again fairly normal it would not be possible long to conceal from armed forces and eventually from Iranian public kind of army Iran has to have. If it should become known that the army was not even to try defending country, could Iranian people have reasonable grounds for hoping save Iran from inroads Communism?

Without such hope, could they be expected put up really effective struggle against Communist activities? Was it not too much to expect that people with constant threat of international Communist aggression hanging over their heads against which they would have no means defend themselves would exert their utmost efforts to stamp out domestic Communism?

3. During my various conversations with the Shah re future army I tried ascertain his views re number related subjects among which following might be mentioned:

Status military Mission and MAAG. I pointed out that if army was to be reorganized and rearmed for purpose enabling it engage in holding action against aggressor from north it would be necessary for it have entirely different kind training. Otherwise, it could not possibly make use of modern equipment or engage in modern warfare operations. In order for it receive such intensive training it might be necessary for ARMISH or MAAG or perhaps both expand somewhat so that training could be carried on at divisional and in some instances perhaps at regimental levels. Would he and government be prepared for such expansion? Would they permit American officers supervise training in various geographical areas at lower levels? Shah replied in affirmative. He said if training was for purpose defending country he would be glad see it extended to lower echelons and be confident government would [Page 833]share his views this respect. I asked whether government would be willing renew present ARMISH contract. At present ARMISH carrying on in Iran under terms of agreement which had expired and which had been extended for indefinite period merely on basis gentlemen’s agreement reached with Mosadeq some 18 months ago. This situation not satisfactory to US Department of Defense. Shah said US Government willing retain ARMISH in Iran under these conditions during regime Mosadeq. Why therefore could it not do so during regime more friendly to West? Why raise question of Majlis new agreement? In his opinion preferable let present agreement continue for indefinite period of time. If new government should take over which was unfriendly to West, position ARMISH would be untenable in any event. He hoped US Government would not press this particular point. In his opinion if training carried out through MAAG no new contracts necessary.

Defense arrangements between Iran and neighbors. I said if Soviet Union should attack Iran and Iran should engage in delaying action it might require some time before western powers could come to aid Iran. Defense Iran would be facilitated if it would be in position receive certain assistance at once from its neighbors. Such assistance could be extended more quickly and effectively if arrangements therefor had been made in advance of hostilities. What would be Iran’s attitude re making such arrangements? Shah replied Iran of course must have defense arrangements with some its neighbors if it was to have any chance of escaping enemy occupation. Until Iran however would have army capable of putting up some kind defense it useless even discuss making such arrangements. At present for instance Turkey had several divisions facing Soviet Union in area adjacent to Azerbaijan, whereas Iran had only few scattered contingents. In such circumstances it would be humiliating for Iran engage in conversations with Turkey re common defense their frontiers against Soviet aggression. Iran would be prepared as soon as it possessed what might be called defense forces to enter into conversations with neighboring powers re defense providing such powers not affording military bases to any great power. I asked if I was to infer he would not be willing enter into defense arrangement with Iraq because of presence British air bases on Iraqi territory.

He replied if in such circumstances Iran should enter into defense arrangement Iraq, Russia would be in position charge Iran plotting with great powers against it. Similar situation prevailed re Saudi Arabia. I took exception this remark pointing out US had no military bases Saudi Arabia. I said if he to permit himself be swayed by fear charges Russia might make, it might be preferable drop idea of creating defensive army since Russia would certainly [Page 834]register objections to such development. If Iran should be attacked valuable assistance might come to it through Iraq. I was surprised therefore learn he shrinking from idea military agreement with Iraq because latter had kind of military arrangement with British which might facilitate speedy extension aid to Iran. Reply Shah somewhat vague. It was to effect that if combined forces Pakistan, Iraq and Turkey could be strong enough effectively to discourage Russian aggression he might consider entering into military arrangements with all three of them despite Russian protest.

Attitude of Iranian Government re future Iran army. In reply my queries Shah told me he had discussed his views re what future Iranian armed forces should be with Prime Minister and Minister Defense who fully shared them. There no disagreement this matter between Iran Government and himself.
Oil problem. I told Shah during last conversation that I had not as yet made recommendations to US Government based on my conversations with him re future Iranian Army because it seemed to me it would serve no useful purpose to make long range plans any kind for Iran in absence more assurances than I at present possessed that oil problem would be settled within next three or four months. If such problem not settled, Iran would have difficulty supporting army capable of maintaining local law and order. Without settlement it certainly could not support even with generous US assistance army capable delaying advance aggression from north. It seemed to me therefore reorganization and re-equipment of army should await settlement oil problem. Shah expressed deep concern. He said he hoped oil problem would be settled within next three or four months. It would be mistake postpone decision re future armed forces until settlement actually effected. He knew from experience how slow governments, including that of US, worked. If decision should be made now by US Government to help Iran in achieving armed forces capable of delaying action, it be several months in any event before needed supplies, equipment, training personnel etc. would be moving towards Iran. If in meantime should become apparent no oil settlement possible, execution of decision could be stopped without any great loss to US. He hoped therefore decision could be taken at once so machinery both in US and Iran for carrying it out could be set in motion.

4. I hope after discussions with key members Embassy staff and with General McClure be able make recommendations by telegram in near future.

  1. Transmitted in two sections.
  2. In telegram 979 the Department informed Ambassador Henderson that under U.S. policy objectives stated in NSC 136/1 ( Document 240) the Iranian military assistance program did not permit the development of strong withdrawal-delaying action defenses. However, the Department suggested that if Henderson believed that there were good reasons favoring a revision of these objectives, the Department would consider recommending a change in policy objectives to the National Security Council. The Department also warned that military assistance funds for fiscal 1954 were extremely limited, and that the Department would consider such a request only if Henderson believed additional assistance would have a marked impact upon Iran. (788.55/9–2953)