29. Current Intelligence Memorandum1

OCI No. 1582/64


  • The Visit of the Shah of Iran
The Shah of Iran is due to arrive in Washington on 4 June to open a “7,000 Years of Persian Art” exhibit at the National Gallery. Although he is on an unofficial visit, he is scheduled to see the President, as well as other top officials. The Shah is also scheduled to receive honorary degrees from American University and from the University of California at Berkeley before he leaves the country about 13 June. He has visited the US on four previous occasions, unofficially in 1954–55 and 1958, and officially in 1949 and 1962. The principal problem anticipated during this trip is hostile demonstrations by Iranian students, particularly in California. Such demonstrations against the Iranian Government have been a perennial problem in this country, and a number of sizable ones occurred in Europe during the Shah’s visit to Austria and Italy last winter.
The Shah’s short title is His Imperial Majesty Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Now age 44, he is an intelligent and personable individual, fluent in English and French, with a taste for sports—tennis, riding, skiing, flying—and an interest in art and literature as well as in attractive women. He has been married three times: to the sister of ex-king Farouk (1939); to the well-known Soraya, the daughter of a minor tribal chief and a German national (1951); and to the present Queen, Farah, who comes from an old Azerbaijan family (1959). The long-desired heir, Prince Reza, was born in 1960. The Shah has two daughters, one born last year and one by his first wife.
The Shah has been on the throne, ruling most of the time as well as reigning, since 1941, when his father was ousted by the Allies. The father was an army officer who seized the throne to found the Pahlavi dynasty. The Shah’s beginning and finishing education was military; in between he spent four years in schools in Switzerland. His interest in the army and in military affairs generally is thus a product of his educational background as well as of a preoccupation with Iran’s security problems.
The Shah’s family has not been among his assets. His father was disliked and feared, his twin sister leads an uninhibited personal life allegedly engaging in such doubtful business enterprises as opium smuggling and his half-brothers have generally been kept in obscurity. The [Page 62] political philosophy of many of the Shah’s court intimates appears to be late eighteenth century Bourbon.
From this background, the Shah has emerged, particularly in the past ten years, as a sensitive, often moody, but nonetheless able proponent of the modernization of his country—under his direction. Since the overthrow of the Mossadeq regime in 1953 he has operated largely as a dictator, with a thin facade of parliamentary democratic procedures. He has confronted, with some considerable skill, a situation in which a rising middle class has agitated restlessly for greater political power and accelerated economic and social change, while vested interests—landed aristocracy, obscurantist clergy, and tribal chieftains—have venomously opposed all attempts at reform.
The present phase of the Shah’s reform program began in earnest two years ago. Its main points are the redistribution of land, electoral reform including the enfranchisement of women, profit sharing among industrial workers, the nationalization of forests, the formation of a literacy corps, and provision for the compensation of expropriated landlords. Land reform is the key aspect of the program, and substantial progress has been made. There are indications, however, that the program will soon be temporarily slowed to allow the administrative apparatus—surveys, etc.—to catch up. The new cabinet, under Prime Minister Hasan Ali Mansur, is pledged to undertake administrative reforms to consolidate the achievements of the “white revolution.” The hyper-skeptical Iranian public, however, is likely to view this development as an indication that the vested interests have gained a round.
The Shah’s opponents are able to unite only on the issue of his “dictatorial and unconstitutional” methods of governing. The principal opposition vehicle is a National Front, whose core comes from the upper and middle classes. However, the development of a unified opposition is handicapped not only by the disparity of views among its elements—which run from the Muslim mullahs to the Communist Tudeh Party, heavily infiltrated by the government’s security organs—but also by the basic appeal that the land reform program has made in an overwhelmingly peasant country. The opposition has been placed in the position of trying to oppose the Shah while avoiding opposition to a popular program with which he is personally identified. There are in fact some signs that younger members of the middle class, who are now taking up their “class positions” in the government bureaucracy, are rallying to the government, at least in the sense that they seem to be working diligently to make the Shah’s program a success.
This tendency is not evident, however, among the students in the U.S. who are likely to cause trouble during his visit. Iranian young people who study abroad are almost invariably from the upper class, particularly those in the US. Many oppose the Shah because of family memories of [Page 63] past cruelties committed by his father. Others are genuinely disturbed by the “dictatorship,” by the omnipresence of the security police, and probably by their own sense of frustration over the slowness with which Iranian society seems able to change. At the same time, there is evidence that many Iranian student leaders in Europe and in the US are supported in part with funds from Communist sources and/or have become ideologically attached to left-wing movements.
The Shah calls his foreign policy “positive nationalism.” Its basic pro-Western orientation is a reflection of his personal position rather than of any widespread popular sentiment. Many Iranian intellectuals in fact would prefer a neutralist position, and oppose Iran’s membership in CENTO and its 1959 mutual defense pact with the US. Iran’s heavy dependence on US aid since World War II is currently undergoing a subtle change as the country’s oil revenues improve its financial position. The Shah nonetheless continues to complain that US military aid is insufficient; recent US-Iranian military exercises in southwestern Iran appear to have confirmed in the Shah’s mind the strategic importance of Iran to the West as well as reassured him of US support.
The Shah’s relations with the U.S.S.R. are diplomatically correct at the moment. Soviet propaganda against him has slackened since Moscow accepted his 1962 pledge not to allow foreign missile bases on Iranian territory. Soviet President Brezhnev visited Iran last year, and the U.S.S.R. extended a ten-year credit of $38.8 million to finance a project to harness the Aras River, which forms the Iranian-Soviet frontier in northwestern Iran.
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency Files: Job 79–T00430A, Current Intelligence Memoranda, May 1964. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. Prepared in the Office of Current Intelligence.