25. Background Paper Prepared in the Department of State1





Shortly after Vice President Johnson’s visit to Iran in August 1962, the Shah personally assumed leadership of a program of reforms, some of which had been launched by the Amini Government before its fall in mid-1962. In the absence of Parliament, the Shah in January 1963 put to a referendum and won overwhelming endorsement for a six-point reform program, the most significant elements of which were land reform and an Education Corps modelled on our Peace Corps. Subsequently, other elements have been added to the original program, most notably enfranchisement of women and a Health Corps.

While the execution of the program has been spotty, certain aspects have gained considerable momentum and give the impression that some fundamental changes are at last under way in the long-static Iranian society. An election in the Fall of 1963, although carefully controlled by the Shah and barred to the opposition, nevertheless avoided the more blatant rigging of earlier elections. It brought into being a pro-reform Parliament and ended an unconstitutional parliamentary interregnum of more than two years. In March 1964 the Shah appointed a new Government of younger technocrat elements headed by Hasan Ali Mansur, who is concentrating on certain key administrative reforms (budget, civil service) and on attempts to spur a business revival through an increased level of public investments and economic policies favorable to private business.

In espousing basic reforms the Shah alienated the landlords and conservative clergy which had formed the principal base of his support, but failed to overcome the pre-existing opposition of the pro-Mosadeqist “nationalists.” While these externally disparate elements have not in most instances joined forces, the conservative groups were powerful enough in the summer of 1963 to incite severe rioting in Tehran and other cities. This was suppressed without great difficulty by the Shah’s military and security forces, and a threatened repetition of the rioting this summer has so far been forestalled by precautionary measures. These military and security forces have a high degree of reliability and increasing [Page 55] technical capability. Their methods can be vigorous when necessary and they are feared by some elements of the population. However, they have not been used by the regime to institute an atmosphere of widespread repression, even against the conservative opponents of reform.

The Shah is clearly exhilarated by the initial progress of his reform program, particularly his own success in having overcome his dependence on the anti-reform elements in Iranian society. Although he is undoubtedly sincere in espousing the reforms as an essential feature (along with economic development) of the modernization of his country, he is also acutely conscious of the effect of the reforms on world opinion, particularly in the U.S. In describing the reforms to foreigners, he is apt to exaggerate greatly their success and to confuse promise with fulfillment. We thus find it necessary from time to time, while expressing appreciation for his reform efforts, to remind him that we see them as only a beginning. In order to avoid the appearance of patronizing him, we have couched such strictures in terms of comparisons with the United States, where, in spite of the maturity of economic and institutional development, there remain grave areas of concern, such as poverty and race relations.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Iran, Shah’s Visit, 6/5/64. Confidential. Drafted by Tiger and cleared by Bowling, Towsley, Spain, and Jernegan.