69. Telegram 2333 From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1 2

Pass Moscow and London

For Under Secy Richardson and Asst Sect Sisco from MacArthur


  • Shah’s Deep Concern Re (A) Increasing Soviet Pressures Against Iran and (B) Doubts Re British


  • Tehran 1716 (para 5)
In FonMin Zahedi’s absence in Jordan, Acting FonMin Khalatbari asked me to call urgently last evening to receive message from Shah. Khalatbari said Shah asked him to remind me of talk he had April 25 with me (reftel) re Soviets, after years silence, bringing up with Iranians 1921 Soviet-Iran Treaty, Article 6 of which gives Soviets right militarily to occupy Iran if developments there threaten Soviet Union.
Shah wanted USG to know at top level that following references by Podgorny and Soviet Amb some week ago (reftel) another high Soviet official (I understood it was high-ranking member of Soviet delegation to joint Iran-USSR economic committee) had again referred recently to 1921 Treaty but with more menacing nuances which also involved US. In meeting with Minister of Economy Ansary, This Soviet official referred to visit in May James Linings (Time, Inc.) US investment group, saying Soviets understood members of Linen Group, interested in joining with Iran in exploiting forest in Caspian area. He then referred pointedly to [Page 2]1921 Treaty and recent public comment by Shah that frontier between Soviet Union and Iran was frontier of friendship and peace. Soviets wanted frontier kept that way and therefore if Iran needed foreign assistance he suggested, with heavy-handed humor, that they get “angels" to help them exploit Iran’s resources, adding that in Soviet view “Americans are not angels.”
According to Khalatbari, Ansary replied with some spirit that 1921 Treaty signed before UN came into existence and that UN Charter and not 1921 Treaty governed relations beween two countries. Furthermore, not just Americans but British, French, West Germans, Soviets themselves and others were cooperating with Iran in development of its resources. Iran could not recognize that there was any difference in such friendly foreign cooperation whether it occurred in north center or south of Iran. ANSARY Also pointed out that some years ago Iran had made contract with American company (Fairhurst Co.) re forestry in north and asked why at this late date Soviet Union suddenly felt obliged to raise this matter. Soviet official turned aside Ansary’s riposte with another heavy-handed attempt at humor and dropped subject.
Shah wanted to know our view as to why Soviets at this juncture putting thinly veiled pressure on Iran through 1921 Treaty. “What does US think this means?” Khalatbari said what worries Shah is that Soviets may be reading extreme preoccupation of USG with Southeast Asia and to lesser extent Israel-UAR situation as indication that USG has such urgent problems elsewhere that it has neither time nor energy to be deeply concerned with future of Persian Gulf region, thus enabling Soviets to become “arbiter” of entire Middle East. Shah, he said, views Soviet activity in Middle East as extended hand with fingers probing Mediterranean, Iraq and Gulf, Afghanistan, etc. Soviets have been advancing into Middle East with success after success in much of Arab world where they are considered not just as supporter of Arabs against Israel and US but as actual defender through SA–3 and Soviet air sqdns in [illegible] Egypt. Khalatbari concluded “Shah wished to flash you a red light. He feels recent Soviet efforts at intimidation [Page 3]through 1921 Treaty may result from Soviet confidence that US is so committed elsewhere that Soviets can start their move toward Gulf with impunity, utilizing increasingly dependent Iraq. Shah hopes USG will make clear its interest in this vital area and will also move ahead with joint projects Iran has discussed with us with view to strengthening Iran’s ability to cooperate with other like-minded countries in Gulf to assure peace and stability there after British withdrawal in accordance with Nixon Doctrine.
I replied I was sure HIM knew from his talks (a) with President last autumn and (b) subequently with Under Secy Richardson and Asst. Secy Sisco, as well as Richardson-Sisco Tehran departure statements that there no rpt no question whatsoever as to our vital interest in what happens in Gulf and our conviction of importance of Iran’s role of leadership in area. Insofar as Iran’s military acquisition program concerned, we should be able complete negotiation of eighth tranche just as soon as FMS legislation passed Congress and in meantime Generals Twitchell and Toufanian were working on agreed study to obtain over-all picture of Iran’s military requirements so that we could see how best we could assist our Iranian friends with resources that we could reasonably expect would be available to us.
Khalatbari then said that Shah and GOI also worried by attitude of British Gulf area, fearing British [Page 4]playing some kind of devious game. He said, while British Amb Wright assures GOI British influence is being used with sheikhs of Sharja and Ras-al-Khaimah on behalf of acceptable settlement Iran re Abu Musa and Tunbs Islands. On other hand British officials in Gulf are indicating to sheikhs that RAF aircraft and British forces are there to “protect them” against Iranian or other pretensions. Iranians also angered by UK Foreign Minister Stewart’s exchange with Zahedi during recent Washington CENTO meeting over islands, but more particularly over Stewart’s bland assertion to Zahedi when latter tried to probe him that he (Stewart) “was really not informed re details.” Khalatbari said this absurd in light of conversations with Stewart during his last visit here and preoccupation of British FonOff with island situation and unhelpful leaking to press it has recently engaged in re Sharja and Umm-al-Qaiwain oil concession dispute. (He mentioned article in latest “Economist” and May 31 “Sunday Times” as examples.) Khalatbar said there also rumors Britain may in some way be conniving with Iraq and some Iranians believe Kuwait Govt [Page 5]would not have permitted recent publication of anti-Iranian and pro-Iraq press commentary re Gulf islands unless British, “who have traditionally been close to ruling family,” had given green light.
Finally, there was incident last week over islands involving Amb Wright and Foreign Under Secy Zelli. Zelli convoked Wright to officially request UK to use its authority to prevent Occidental from beginning drilling. Wright reported this to London and subsequently received instructions (part of which he read to me which I thought a bit equivocal and legalistic) which among other things made clear Britain obliged to protect rights of its protectorates, etc. This was interpreted by Zelli as “arrogant threat” that Britain would use force against Iran if it asserted its rights to Abu Musa and was so reported to Shah who I hear was extremely displeased. Wright subsequently assured Alam and Foreign Ministry there no rpt no threat and instructions which he had read to Zelli were carefully worded in terms of Britain’s legal position and responsibilities. Khalatbari concluded by saying there growing Iranian apprehension that “Britain will leave Gulf in same kind of mess in which it left Aden, India, Pakistan and other colonies from which it has withdrawn.”
I said I could not of course speak for Britain and its activities and responsibilities with respect to sheikhdoms: however, I could see no rpt no conceivable advantage to Britain in conniving with Iraq and on contrary I personally felt Iraq represented basic danger to British interests because of its historic claims against Kuwait which today holds in London about 700 million pounds sterling and from where comes much of UK oil paid for in sterling. From my talks with Amb Wright, I believe he quite sincere that Britain would use its influence with sheikhs to try to persuade them to reach amicable agreement with Iran re islands. However, Britain obviously had its own problems and from purely legal viewpoint British Foreign Office would probably have to take legal position which justified its original action of seizure of islands in nineteenth century. To expect it to take any other position that would indicate that British actions over 150 years had been [Page 6]illegal seemed unrealistic.
Comment: I have reported foregoing at length because from every quarter we hear of Shah’s (a) increasing preoccupation with Soviet advances into this area and (b) Shah’s growing suspicion that if Britain is not playing some dubious game of its own devising, it is at least behaving in a way which will make more difficult maintenance of peace and stability in Gulf after British withdrawal in 1971. Whether or not suspicions and fears of Shah and some senior members of his govt are justified is quite beside point. Unhappy fact at this juncture is that such suspicions and apprehensions re Britain do exist. Would greatly appreciate any thoughts or comments, particularly to alleviate Shah’s apprehension that we are so bogged down in Southeast Asia that we will sit by and let Soviets fulfill their traditional aspirations and move in to become “arbiter of Gulf and entire Middle East” as Shah puts it.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL IRAN-USSR. Secret; Priority; Exdis; Noforn.
  2. Ambassador MacArthur warned Under Secretary Richardson and Assistant Secretary Sisco that the Shah was alarmed at growing Soviet pressure upon Iran and suspicious that the United Kingdom was plotting with Iraq against Iranian interests.