268. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Herter to President Eisenhower0


  • Soviet Threats to Iran

There have been developments in Iran relating to the proposed bi-lateral agreements between the United States on the one hand and Turkey, Iran and Pakistan on the other hand, which render it advisable as a matter of urgency to bring to your attention the present status of the matter.

You will recall that at the London meeting in July of the Baghdad Pact Ministerial Council,1 the United States joined in a Declaration with the other governments represented there to the effect that it would assume with respect to those governments the same obligations which they had assumed among themselves in Article I of the Baghdad Pact. Essentially this was that: “Similarly, the United States, in the interest of world peace, and pursuant to existing Congressional authorization, agrees to cooperate with the nations making the Declaration for their security and defense, and will promptly enter into agreements designed to give effect to this cooperation.”2

The reason for joining in this Declaration was to prevent serious weakening of the Baghdad Pact and at the same time provide a suitable alternative to our adherence, for which the members had strongly pressed in light of the Iraqi coup which had just taken place.

Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan indicated that they wished to negotiate new and identical bilateral agreements with us even though there were in existence various agreements which provided the basis for technical assistance, economic aid, military programs, etc. These new bilateral agreements have been under discussion and negotiation for the past several months. The principal points at issue in the past have related to a desire on the part of the Middle Eastern countries to obtain the commitment that the United States would come to their assistance in case of [Page 640] aggression, direct or indirect, from any quarter, and a commitment that the United States would provide “additional” military and economic assistance. We have maintained the position that we could not undertake either of these commitments, and that the agreements must be within presently existing legislative authority, including the Mutual Security Act and the Joint Congressional Resolution to promote peace and stability in the Middle East. The area countries have now accepted our position in this regard, and other discussions have related to the secondary issues which have now been worked out. The text of the draft agreement as it now stands is enclosed.3 Copies have been made available to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for the of its members.

One complication has been that the Government of Pakistan desired, simultaneous with the signature of the bilateral agreements, assurance in some form that the United States would regard with utmost gravity any threat to the independence and integrity of Pakistan. It had India particularly in mind. Iran also has urged a statement along these lines, and expressed the hope that it might be considerably stronger, even saying that the United States would defend Iran as if it were American territory. We have considered it unwise to undertake such formal statements or assurances supplementing the bilateral agreements, but have said that we intended to make a statement at the time of the signature of the agreements which would announce them, set forth their purpose, and reiterate that the United States would view with utmost gravity any threat to the territorial integrity or political independence of these nations. Statements of this character have been made in the past, notably on November 29, 1956, at the time the countries were disturbed as a result of the Suez crisis. There is enclosed a draft of the kind of statement we have had in mind.

You will recall that, while our bilateral agreements were under negotiation, the Iranian Government undertook, without advance notice to us or to the other members of the Baghdad Pact, talks with the Soviet Union on a possible non-aggression pact. One of the conditions offered by Iran during the early stages of these negotiations appears to have been that it would not conclude a bilateral agreement with the United States, although it would remain in the Baghdad Pact. This no doubt was tempting to the Soviet Union. The negotiations with the Soviet Union broke down after a very acrimonious exchange,4 and since then Iran has [Page 641] been under intense Soviet propaganda pressure. The Soviets have taken Iran’s attitude as a personal affront to Khrushchev who, according to the Soviet version, personally authorized the negotiations at the instigation of the Shah.

Soviet propaganda against Iran and the Shah personally has reached a new high for recent years, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Prime Minister Eqbal has stated that the Soviet Ambassador was passing a story around Tehran to various Iranians and to members of the diplomatic corps that the Soviet Union will occupy Azerbaijan if Iran signs the bilateral agreement with the United States. Unconfirmed press stories from Iran dated February 22 report that the Soviet Ambassador made a similar threat directly to the Iranian Foreign Minister.5 If true, this of course would be far more serious than the informal comments made to individuals. (The British Embassy informs us that reports of these developments have gone to Mr. Macmillan in Moscow and that he is fully briefed on the subject.)

Notwithstanding these reported Soviet threats, the Iranian Government has reiterated its desire to sign the bilateral agreement as soon as possible, and we understand the Iranian Ambassador in Ankara has been given appropriate authorization. At the same time, the Iranians urge a Presidential statement setting forth in strong terms our support for Iran.

The situation at the present time is, therefore, that subject to the ironing out of several details, the agreements will be ready for signature, presumably in Ankara. Iran has suggested that they be signed as early as February 24.

I believe we must recognize that there are dangerous potentialities in the present situation. We cannot know the extent to which the Soviet statements are bluff, and thus cannot be certain that they will not take action vis-à-vis Iran which would pose a serious dilemma for us. We do know that the Soviets are endeavoring by all means at their disposal to prevent the signature of the bilateral agreements and that their signing, in the light of the history of the recent Soviet-Iranian negotiations, would be viewed with great seriousness by the Soviet Union, even though the agreements in fact do not contain any new commitments on our part.

On the other hand, our failure to proceed with signature of these agreements would, particularly in view of the background, be taken as a sign of weakness on the part of the United States and/or the Baghdad Pact countries, and this would be a major victory for Soviet policy in the [Page 642] Near East. It would seriously undermine anti-communist elements in the whole area, as well as American prestige.

I therefore believe that despite the dangers we should proceed with arrangements for the signature of the bilaterals which, in the absence of delaying tactics, would be completed some time this week. Before proceeding I will take the matter up with the Department of Defense, and of course desire your views.

Christian A. Herter
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File, Iran. Secret. A Department of State copy of this memorandum indicates that Rountree was the drafter. (Department of State, Central Files, 661.88/2–2359) A note on the memorandum indicates that the President approved it and the attachments and the Department of State was notified on February 24.
  2. See Documents 33 and 34.
  3. For text of the declaration, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1958, pp. 894–895.
  4. The draft is not printed; for text as agreed upon, see ibid., 1959, pp. 1020–1022.
  5. The Shah sent Eisenhower a letter on February 14 expressing solidarity with the West, explaining his reasons for the negotiation of a potential nonaggression treaty with the Soviet Union, and stating that the discussions had failed. (Telegram 1554 from Tehran, February 14; Department of State, Central Files, 788.5–MSP/2–1459)
  6. According to telegram 1624 from Tehran, February 24, these stories were “baseless” and there was “no confirmation any direct Sov threat occupy Iran.” (Department of State, Central Files, 661.88/2–2459)