Learn about the beta

17. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Conversation Between President Kennedy and Lieutenant General Teimur Bakhtiar


  • The President
  • Lieutenant General Teimur Bakhtiar, Assistant to the Prime Minister of Iran and Chief of the Security and Information Organization (SAVAK)
  • Dr. Khosro Khosrovani, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim, Iranian Embassy
  • Mr. G. Lewis Jones, Assistant Secretary, NEA
  • Mr. Robert R. Schott, Officer in Charge, Greek Affairs, GTI

General Bakhtiar called on the President by appointment at 3:00 p.m., March 1, 1961, to present a letter from the Shah of Iran.1

The President, after reading the letter, commenting on the military-economic foreign aid aspects thereof, stated his Administration had the matter of aid currently under study. The President envisaged by the end of March the recommendations would probably be completed and submitted. It was his understanding the Iranian fiscal year began March 22 and, consequently, a period would elapse before the Shah would be informed about the questions raised in His Majesty’s letter. The President hoped, however, the Shah would understand the difficulties facing his new Administration and the Government of Iran would not experience an undue hardship on this account.

The President then asked how the General would prefer that he answer the letter. Since General Bakhtiar was returning to Tehran March 2, it was agreed that the reply would be transmitted through the Department and given to the Shah by Ambassador Wailes.

General Bakhtiar then underlined the financial difficulties facing Iran, particularly the problem of simultaneously financing economic development and maintaining adequate security forces. The General reiterated that it was important Iran be informed as soon as possible about the level of assistance for the coming year. The General remarked the Iranian Government believed that the Consortium should increase its off-take of oil to augment Iran’s income. He drew as an analogy the Kuwait oil picture. In Kuwait the annual income from oil is $400 million which on a per capita basis gives each Kuwaiti $2,000; each Iranian, dividing the annual income from oil of $250 million, would receive only $12. The President asked which American companies were participating in Iranian oil development. He emphasized commercial matters were usually settled in the open market, adding he was sure the General was aware the United States Government ordinarily did not advise American private business on how to run its affairs. He said, however, he would “look into the matter”.2

[Page 40]

The President stated he was acutely aware of the problem facing Iran, like other countries, where the tasks of maintaining internal security and armed forces against outside aggression, in addition to striving to achieve a democratic form of government and economic development, were monumental. The United States is aware of the aspirations of the peoples of Iran and elsewhere to achieve these goals and we wish to associate ourselves with the hopes of these peoples. The United States continues to be interested and concerned in Iran’s problems, as we are also aware of the Iranian peoples’ wish to be free from the threat of aggression.

As evidence of his concern, the President requested General Bakhtiar to reassure the Shah of our continued interest, adding he would give His Majesty’s letter his considered attention. Further, the President added the General might tell His Imperial Majesty that he would be pleased to be in communication with him. Furthermore, as evidence of our interest, the President informed the General that he was sending Ambassador Harriman to Iran following his trip to Europe. Iran will be the only Asian country Ambassador Harriman will visit and the President remarked that he was convinced that Ambassador Harriman’s visit, like the General’s, would be helpful to both parties.

General Bakhtiar then stated that Iran, in addition to having the Soviets on its borders, has two other neighbors—Iraq and Afghanistan—which are receiving more modern weapons (especially aircraft) than Iran is receiving. The President remarked that he was not aware of any serious problem facing Iran from the direction of Iraq and Afghanistan. He asked about Iran’s relations with its two neighbors. In reply, Dr. Khosrovani stated that with the exception of the problem of the Helmand River, Iran’s relations with Afghanistan were good. Concerning Iraq, he characterized relations as normal with some tension existing over the Shatt-al-Arab River issue.

The President then reiterated that the United States was sympathetic with Iran’s needs and that he would be communicating with His Majesty. He added that he wished to emphasize: (1) the problem of foreign aid was under study; (2) he hoped the Iranians would understand that his Administration is fully aware of and concerned with the problem as posed by His Imperial Majesty; (3) he was sending Ambassador Harriman to express his desire to maintain contact with the Shah and to express our sympathetic understanding of the difficulties facing Iran. The President then requested the General to convey his best wishes to His Majesty, recalling to the Shah that he had visited Iran and had called on His Imperial Majesty in 1951 and subsequently had met him in Florida. He also expressed happiness that both the Shah and himself had sons born at about the same time.

[Page 41]

In answer to the President’s question as to whether the General had seen Mr. Dulles and other officials in the United States, the General replied in the affirmative and commented that he was very satisfied with his visit in the United States.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 788.5–MSP/3–161. Secret. Drafted by Schott (NEA/GTI) and approved by the White House on March 21. The time of the meeting is taken from President Kennedy’s Appointment Book. (Kennedy Library) A briefing memorandum, sent from Secretary Rusk to President Kennedy in preparation for the meeting, is in Department of State, Central Files, 788.11/2–2861.
  2. Not printed. On March 17, Rusk forwarded to Kennedy a proposed reply to the Shah’s letter. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.88/3–1761) The President’s response to the Shah was transmitted to the Embassy in Tehran in telegram 1101, March 24. (Ibid., 788.5–MSP/3–2461) For text, see Supplement, the compilation on Iran.
  3. Subsequently, on March 16, a memorandum from Stoessel to Dungan conveyed the Department of State position that Iran had repeatedly in the past raised the off-take issue, that the President’s response was fully in accord with the previous U.S. position on the subject, and that a further response was not required. (Department of State, Central Files, 880.2553/3–1661)