2. Letter From the Shah of Iran to President Johnson1

Dear Mr. President,

I have been recalling with pleasure impressions of your memorable but short visit to Teheran, in the company of Mrs. Johnson and your daughter. It was indeed gratifying to have had the occasion to meet you again personally. For the citizens of our capital it was a rare and cherished opportunity to have a glimpse of a kind-hearted and affable personality of your stature, to show their genuine admiration for you and to extend to you, as you no doubt witnessed, their spontaneous and cordial welcome. Such personal contacts and human relationships make for more sincere cooperation, still better understanding and closer ties of friendship between our two countries.

Let me express the earnest hope that the United States, under your wise and capable leadership will further succeed in her continued efforts to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for mankind.

I am quite confident, Mr. President, that your wisdom and high statesmanship, as well as your long and intimate association with American politics and extensive knowledge and experience of world affairs, will prove invaluable assets in the successful discharge of the heavy responsibilities of your high office both in the United States and abroad.

Since your visit, Mr. President, much has happened in Iran. A comprehensive programme of far-reaching social, political and economic reforms, of which you were then given a brief account, has now been fully implemented. These reforms have transformed completely the entire structure of our society, and placed its foundations firmly upon the enlightened and progressive principles of our time. In their application, varying political slogans which essentially cater for the interests of only a certain class of society played no part. The guiding principle of our national policy is the realization of that which is advantageous to the interests of a free and independent society.

That the Iranian people wholeheartedly supported the cause of our revolutionary reforms was amply manifested at the referendum of January 1963, and during our recent general elections. I am certain that you are already familiar with these events.

Our position today, from the point of view of internal stability, national prestige, and our people’s confident hope for a better life has [Page 4] reached a point where, if no external dangers should threaten us, gives us reason to look to the future with well-founded optimism and confidence.

Turning to conditions outside Iran, we are thankful that the firm and far-sighted policy of the United States has led the world to the threshold of a period of relaxation of international tension, and that the Soviet Union seems, for the present at least, to have discarded the use of force as an instrument of her foreign policy. In these circumstances, I believe, Mr. President, co-existence with Russia, in the face of the Chinese peril to universal peace, commends itself as the wisest course to adopt; bearing in mind that until such time that complete and general disarmament with full and precise control becomes a reality, the fundamental question of our time, namely the preservation of peace, remains unsolved. Meanwhile, it is a matter of course that we should be well-disposed to undertake any step or action that would contribute to the realization of this goal, provided, of course, that in so doing we do not compromise our principles.

Your illustrious predecessor, in a letter written to me just before his tragic demise, had asked my opinion, in view of our past experiences with the Soviet Union, on the question of the bruited non-aggression treaty between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries.

You are well aware, Mr. President, that in 1959 we were on the point of signing with the Soviet Union a non-aggression treaty for a period of some 30 or even 50 years. Their rather ridiculous initial conditions, however, delayed the negotiations for a few days. In the meantime, we received messages from the Presidents of the United States, Turkey and Pakistan warning us of the dangers of such a step. We were even reminded of the fate of the Baltic States. The reason they advanced was that if any action of this nature were to be taken, it would have to be on behalf of all the countries of the free world; in other words, that such an action would have to be collective, if the free world’s united front were to remain intact.

This reasoning I found convincing, and I believe that it holds true even today. There can be no objection, in principle, to the conclusion of a non-aggression treaty between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries; it may even be fruitful; but what, may in that case be asked, will be the impact of such a treaty on the regional member nations of the Central Treaty Organization? Where will American and British obligations to CENTO stand? Will Russia, then, be allowed to have a free hand to do as she pleases elsewhere? In such a situation—should it arise—it is not unlikely that the countries thus exposed will have to see how best they can arrive at a bilateral agreement with the Soviet Union and that, certainly at a price.

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It is, therefore, highly advisable that the non-aggression pact between NATO and Warsaw Pact countries—if there is to be one—should cover all member countries of CENTO, in particular those bordering on the Soviet Union and not to leave them outside the agreement. We have also heard of a proposal that all countries of the world should sign a treaty of non-aggression with each other.

There are certain countries in the world, the preservation of whose independence and territorial integrity, because of their characteristic geographic position, does not only constitute a service to those countries alone, but a service also to the stability and peace of an entire area. Iran is an instance of such a country.

Mr. Brezhnev paid a visit to Iran about a couple of months ago. In his talks with me he did his best to be friendly and to leave formality aside. So much so, that on the last day of his stay he went as far as confiding to me that, relations between Iran and the Soviet Union having improved considerably, he would permit himself to express Russia’s dislike of Iran’s participation in military agreements with the West. My immediate reply, of course, was that one did not have to go too far to seek the reasons for the existence of such regional defensive agreements. They would automatically lose their force and validity as soon as the numerous military pacts between countries of the world ceased to exist and the dangers of war and aggression no longer posed a threat to the territorial integrity of smaller nations; and that such an ideal situation could only be brought about when general and complete disarmament with proper controls became a reality.

Permit me to say a few words now about developments in some of the countries around Iran. A matter to which I wish, Mr. President, to call your attention is the danger which threatens this area of the world. I refer to the stockpiles of weapons of aggression in the possession of Egypt and the ever increasing delivery of offensive equipment to that country by the Soviet Union, designed to serve, overtly or under cover, as instruments of Egyptian intervention. Yemen, the Morocco-Algeria conflict and the arming of Somalia for expansion are instances in point. Egypt, in fact, has already prepared an “intervention force” of considerable size, equipped with long-range bombers, missiles, heavy troop transport planes, submarines, ships, and torpedo boats armed with missiles, so that if a “change” should happen to occur in any Arab country and President Nasser be asked to “intervene” he would willingly do so and let the world be faced with a fait accompli. I should perhaps add that even Iran does not seem to be too distant for his designs or immune from his subversive activities.

It is in consideration of these compelling reasons that the security of the Persian Gulf poses for us a source of constant concern, not only in the interest of our own country, but in the interest of the West as well. Indeed, [Page 6] the stakes involved are so great that any lack of vigilance on our parts may have disastrous consequences. To this situation, we have endeav-oured to draw the attention of the United States Government.

Last year, the Pentagon prepared a Five Year Plan for Iran which was accepted with some reservations and for want of a more satisfactory alternative.2 This Plan has already proved inadequate for the requirements of the changing situation in this area. The Iranian Army is capable of serious combat neither in the mountainous regions—for lack of adequate material requirements and logistical support—nor in the plains—for being devoid of the required mobility, and armour for such warfare. Our armoured equipment, the M47 tanks, are of type not in current production whose replacement and spare parts can be found with great difficulty. Now, if such is the condition of our equipment in peace time, it is difficult to imagine how they can be of any serious value at times of emergency. We have no military stockpiles of any kind and no reserves, even of machine guns, automatic rifles and ammunition to meet routine demands. Should unforeseen circumstances require us to put our army in a state of mobilization, we shall hardly be able to place ourselves in a state of readiness for the emergency. All our supplies and equipment have been distributed to provide for the army’s current requirements.

The responsibilities of the Iranian Air Force, moreover, have never been equal to even the minimum of the Army requirements. Our airfields are limited in number, and where they do exist we are there faced with deficiencies in radar facilities and anti-aircraft protection.

Furthermore, ships and vessels presently in service with our navy, in number as well as in military value, are hardly adequate to carry out their vital responsibilities.

If our armed forces are to function effectively and to perform their alloted duties, and if Iran, a staunch and steadfast ally of the United States, is to play her full part in the changing political climate of the Middle East, then obviously, Mr. President, these shortages have to be met. Otherwise, we must consider as wasted the funds that are presently allocated for maintaining our armed forces.

In my correspondence with you, Mr. President, I wish to be perfectly candid in dealing with matters of mutual interest. If the United States is not in a position to meet our clear and urgent military needs in addition to the Five Year Plan, in order to be able to fulfil our duties, I thought that we might advisedly arrange for the purchase of our additional needs, under favourable conditions, from the United States of America or from elsewhere.

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Of course, the question of CENTO strategy, American engagements and a great many related topics will form the subject of discussions by our representatives at the CENTO Ministerial Council. We hope that this forthcoming meeting, due to be held in Washington, will provide a suitable opportunity for clarifying all these points. In the meantime, it would be useful if you should see fit to appoint someone to discuss with me urgent matters of interest to our two countries and to report the result to you.

In the field of economic activity, it is a source of satisfaction that our own potentials are so great that if we can devote all our planned resources to the implementation of our Five Year Plan, we can envisage an annual growth of 8 per cent, with every hope of raising considerably the material welfare of our people. We have received a number of proposals for economic assistance from Western and even Eastern European countries as well as from the Soviet Union. Doubtless, we would be more than gratified to have offers of loan from the A.I.D. with their very generous terms, and also from the Export-Import Bank and its subsidiary organizations. We would welcome, further, private American investors who would wish to participate in the development of our economy.

To turn once again to the Middle East, the situation in Iraq seems uncertain. With the fall of Kassem’s unwholesome regime, we welcomed with relief what we hoped would be closer ties with Iraq, thinking that since the Baathists at once began to purge their country of Communists, we had been rid of a troublesome neighbour. Our optimism was shortlived however, for we soon discovered in Southern Iran centres of Arab espionage, with their covetous eyes on a certain integral part of our country, namely Khuzistan, the main centre of our oil industry.

With the overthrow of the Baathist Government in Iraq, this danger seems to have abated. Uncertainty however, still persists. For our information indicates that Marshal Aref himself had been fully aware of the above activities and had given them his full support.

I regret to say that already Marshal Aref has shown a tendency to turn towards Egypt. If I lay emphasis on this question and express my concern, it is because we are well aware of the developments in this area and the course they are likely to take.

Here, I must state that our attitude towards Iraq has always been a friendly one, and we have always hoped that Iraq will have a strong and stable Government, capable of preserving its independence and of safeguarding its national interests.

The Kurdish question is still unsettled. Agents of international communism are making every endeavour to exploit the situation to their own advantage, and Cairo is anxious to play its dubious role in any development in this situation.

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If negotiations between the Government at Baghdad and the Kurds should fail to reach an understanding, we have reason to expect that the fighting will flare up again in the spring.

We have reports to the effect that President Nasser did try, and is still making efforts to “mediate” between the Kurds and the Central Government of Iraq. This, on the surface, sounds quite harmless, even perhaps commendable. However, the contents of one of his messages to the Kurds fully reveals his ill intentions towards Iran. He has said in effect, according to our information, that it was a pity the Kurds were fighting the Arabs. He would have given them full support if their force were directed against Iran.

Thus with the situation prevailing in Iraq and with the UAR adventures in Yemen and elsewhere likely to erupt in other parts of the Middle East as well, my obligations to my country and my people make it incumbent upon me to take all precautions for the safety of the country and of our national interests. We cannot tolerate Egypt’s subversive influence at our doorstep; nor fail to regard it seriously. I think, as referred to above, upon the stability of Iran depends the security of the entire Middle East. While we in Iran are seeking to ensure the security and stability of our own country, and that of the Persian Gulf, we are contributing also to the preservation of peace in this entire area—an area in which the United States has vital interests.

Happily, on these as on other matters, we have always maintained close and cordial contact, and our views have never been far apart.

Again, my best wishes for your happiness and success in the service of the United States of America as well as in the cause of the free world.

With high esteem,


M.R. Pahlavi
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence File, Iran—Presidential Correspondence. No classification marking. The copy of the Shah’s letter in the Department of State is attached to a covering memorandum indicating that the original was delivered by the Iranian Embassy to the Department on January 17. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15–1 US/Johnson)
  2. For text of the U.S. Five-Year Military Program for Iran, accepted by Iran on September 19, 1962, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XVIII, pp. 105109.