788.5/12–1753: Telegram

No. 396
The Ambassador in Iran (Henderson) to the Department of State1

top secret

1341. 1. Vice President Nixon told me before his departure2 that during his talk with Shah on afternoon December 11 latter broached subject future Iranian Army. Shah took position similar to that which he had assumed during previous conversations with General McClure and myself. He told Vice President it necessary early decision be made whether Iranian Army was to be organized, equipped and trained to defend Iran in case of external attack from any direction, or army was to be used merely for maintaining internal security. Shah explained why in his opinion army should be capable of engaging in at least holding action in case Iran should be invaded by foreign armed forces. He pointed out that if it should become known that army was to be used merely for police purposes morale not only of army but of Iranian nation as whole would [Page 851] suffer to such extent it would be difficult for Iran to resist Soviet political as well as military pressure.

2. Vice President inquired if Shah had in mind, in case Iranian Army should be prepared to defend itself, that there should be defense cooperation between Iran and its neighbors. Shah replied it only natural Iran should cooperate in defense matters with its neighbors if Iran would have army capable of defensive action. It would make no sense, however, for Iran without army with defense capabilities even to discuss military cooperation with its neighbors. Iran would be in intolerably humiliating position if it should attempt participate in regional defense talks or arrangements at time when it had no armed forces to contribute even to its own defense in case of attack. In his opinion it would not be prudent to talk prematurely re defense pacts or arrangements between Iraq and its neighbors.

3. Shortly after Nixon’s departure Prime Minister and Foreign Minister told me they had understood that matter future Iranian Army had been discussed between Shah and Vice President and they would be grateful if at appropriate time I would let them know in confidence my understanding as to what had been said. Last evening during my talk with Prime Minister he asked if I could summarize for him my understanding in this regard. After I had done so I asked Prime Minister if he was in agreement with Shah’s attitude as described by me and he replied in affirmative.

4. During conversation which I had this morning with Foreign Minister latter also asked me to tell him what I knew about this conversation. When I had done so he expressed relief. He said he had been worried lest Shah had unintentionally misled Vice President into believing Iran prepared at present time go further than it really could. It would be foolhardy for Iran, just now when it had no army capable of defending itself and when government not yet firmly entrenched, to humiliate itself and uselessly provoke Soviet Union by entering into conversations with Pakistan or Turkey or both looking forward towards military cooperation. Least said at present time about ME defense pact which would include Iran, better. In a way it unfortunate that Zafrulla Khan coming Iran just now because his visit would be certain give rise to rumors that common defense conversations between Iran and Pakistan already taking place. Rumors this kind would serve merely to promote agitation among fanatical nationalist fringe and neutralists in Iran against US, Turkey, and Pakistan with consequent embarrassment to Iranian Government. He said he also hoped that if US Government should decide to help Iran transform its army into force capable of defensive action, there would be minimum talk about decision in US and, if possible, no talk at all about military pacts, defensive [Page 852] alliances, etc. It would be preferable for developments in direction ME defense arrangements to follow natural course and not appear to be responsive to outside guidance. Reports emanating from what might appear to be official American sources re military bases in Iran would have particularly unfortunate repercussions and would handicap Iranian Government in its efforts unostentatiously to strengthen Iranian defenses.

5. I told Foreign Minister I confident US Government understood Iran’s difficulties in this respect and had no intention of doing or saying anything which would add to them. Foreign Minister said both Turkish and Pakistan Governments thus far had been circumspect in such official statements as they had issued and he hoped they also would not do or say anything which might increase present press speculation re possibilities future military arrangements with Iran.

6. Foreign Minister said that Indian Ambassador seemed particularly worried re possibility military collaboration under aegis US among Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, and on several occasions had indicated that his government would consider such collaboration as threat to peace of ME. Soviet Ambassador also had dropped hints of similar character. Iran had no intention allowing Soviet or Indian pressure to dictate its foreign or defense policies. Nevertheless now was not time to engage even in secret conversations about future defense pacts or arrangements.

  1. Transmitted in two sections.
  2. Vice President Richard M. Nixon was in Iran Dec. 9–Dec. 12, as part of his good will tour of the Far East and South Asia, which began on Oct. 7, and ended upon his return to Washington on Dec. 14. Extensive material regarding the Vice President’s trip is in file 033.1100–NI.