129. Editorial Note

In telegram 318 from Tehran, October 17, 1961, Ambassador Holmes warned that recent developments in Iran might seriously affect Prime Minister Amini’s tenure in office. Holmes called the Department’s urgent attention to despatch 186 sent via pouch on October 16, which contained his analysis and recommendations as to what the United States should do. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.88/10–1861)

On October 21, Acting Assistant Secretary Armin Meyer forwarded despatch 186 to Secretary Rusk and called the Secretary’s attention, in particular, to the summary and Recommendations A, B, and C. Meyer noted that Holmes’ proposal was in line with current policy guidance toward Iran as set forth in the May 19 Task Force Recommendations. He added: “Holmes has consistently displayed caution with respect to United States actions which might involve the United States too deeply [Page 304]in domestic Iranian political problems. His analysis and recommendations undoubtedly reflect a serious situation requiring early United States action.” Meyer also submitted the text of draft instructions to Tehran, which the Secretary approved. (Ibid., NSAM Files: Lot 72 D 316,NSAM 67)

The summary of despatch 186 from Tehran reads as follows:

“Summary. This despatch summarizes key developments of approximately the past two weeks on the subject of the relationship of the Shah and the Prime Minister, sets forth the Embassy’s analysis, and makes recommendations as to the course of action that should be followed. Briefly, we believe that the Shah may be succumbing to the temptation to undermine the Prime Minister’s position, that the Shah is seriously considering the assumption of personal rule, and that the Shah may be about to give in to pressures for elections in the near future, not because he wants elections per se but because he considers this a means of curbing or even of getting rid of Dr. Amini. I recommend that I be authorized to advise the Shah against assuming personal rule at this time, to speak to him in a negative sense with respect to holding national elections in the near future, and to make clear that we desire the present government to continue to be given the opportunity to carry out its program.”

Sections I–IV of the despatch describe recent developments and contain the Embassy’s assessment of the situation. Section V contains the following recommendations:

  • “A. That I be authorized to tell the Shah that our Government does not believe that he should assume personal control at the present time.

    “It seems to me that this is the easiest of the courses to knock down because it can be done by a combination of objective analysis and flattery: to wit: because the Shah is the bedrock of the Iranian political system, he and the institution he represents should not be risked except in extremis; the present situation is not desperate enough by any means to warrant such a risk. If he assumes power in a less-than-emergency situation, he would have no place to retreat if his rule was not crowned by marked and continuing success from then on.

  • “B. I recommend that I also be authorized to speak to the Shah in a negative sense with respect to his idea of holding elections in the near future.

    “There are several dangers in such a recommendation. First, the United States might well be publicly labeled as opposing elections. I suggest that the answer to this is that we are already credited with being against elections and it would not be immeasurably more difficult to deny the actuality than the rumor.

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    “Secondly, the Shah can always seem to accept our advice and then make our recommended course impossible of achievement. This is the most difficult criticism of our recommendation to answer because it is the most likely outcome. We nevertheless believe that an attempt should be made to turn him from all three courses and concurrently encourage him to support Dr. Amini. We cannot see that the interests of the United States would be any worse off than if we did not try. Nor do we believe, whatever the probabilities, that success is inevitably impossible.

    “I recognize that even if our advice were sincerely followed by the Shah there would still be some continuous clamor for elections, the most difficult source to handle being the University. The answer to that comes in two parts. First, we believe that the University will continue to be a trouble spot regardless of the probable courses of any government. Secondly, if the objective political situation in Iran—as opposed to the situation which those who want to get rid of Amini pretend to see—worsens because of increased pressure for elections or the failure of Dr. Amini’s program, we will have to reassess the situation and perhaps come to a quite different conclusion than we have reached today.

    “Finally, it is our assessment that the Shah’s preferred course is clearly the assumption of personal rule and that he probably has no great desire to hold elections in the near future except as a means of getting rid of Dr. Amini.

    “My idea would be simply to tell the Shah that in our opinion a time of economic crisis is not the most propitious for holding elections and we believe it would be preferable to delay any announcement of elections for a period of perhaps at least six months. At the same time, as a means both of driving home this point and probing the Shah’s thoughts on the matter, it might be a good idea to confront him with a number of questions, some of which are set forth below:

    • “1. What is it precisely in the situation which seems to demand a radical change? What, particularly, has changed since Your Majesty said he did not see the necessity for holding elections for 1–1/2 or 2 years?
    • “2. In Your Majesty’s third alternative, what exactly do you mean by ‘free elections?’ Is it possible at this juncture of Iranian political development to hold elections without any government interference?
    • “3. In the event of elections, what are Your Majesty’s thoughts with respect to the fate of several dozen National Front candidates? (We have in mind here, for one thing, that if elections are going to be held, it would be better for the security position of the country were most National Front candidates elected rather than if they were prohibited from being elected.)
    • “4. What sort of political situation does Your Majesty foresee in Iran following controlled elections? (Why would one expect any improvement over the situation after the last two elections?)
    • “5. What does Your Majesty think of the suggestion, which I understand was made by the Pakistani Ambassador, that education in the meaning of modern electoral processes begins on the village level?
    • “6. In the event that elections are held, does Your Majesty have a candidate in mind for Prime Minister who would presumably do a better job than Dr. Amini in the circumstances that would then prevail?
    • “7. What is foreseen as the role of the Melliyun and Mardom parties during the election, in the organization of the Parliament, and in the selection of a Prime Minister?

  • “C. That, additionally, I be authorized to convey to the Shah that my Government currently has under consideration economic and military aid plans for Iran but that both initial and continuing decisions with respect to the magnitude of this aid will naturally be influenced by the degree of conviction in the United States Government that there will continue to be a government in Iran capable and determined to make effective use of this aid, while at the same time continuing the reform program so ably started by Prime Minister Amini.” (Ibid., Central Files, 611.88/10–1661)

    The instructions to Ambassador Holmes, approved by Secretary Rusk on October 21, were transmitted to Tehran that same day in telegram 277. The text reads as follows:

    “Department concurs your analysis. In accordance current policy, you authorized approach Shah along lines you recommend. Suggest you inform British Ambassador soonest. Department will coordinate with British Embassy Washington. Parallel approach by UK useful but not essential; possible divergence in UK and US attitudes, however, would be extremely undesirable.” (Ibid., 611.88/10–2161)