Sunday, April 7, 2013

US officials on Mossadeq and the British: 1952-3

I've been writing a paper on relations between the United States and Prime Minister Mossadeq (there are a million ways to spell his name but this is the one I most prefer). Having done a ton of research, I've come to the realization that most of the scholarly works on the subject are overly political and not nearly as accurate as one would hope. These works have lead to a number of incorrect conclusions by the public (Iranian, American and others) about the United States government, the State Department, the CIA and their roles in the August 1953 Mossadeq coup.

Most scholars ignore some of the most important documents which we have, chiefly the archival documents of FRUS (Foreign Relations United States). They rely too much on the words of people such as CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt, whose book Countercoup, is the basis for most their scholarly work, despite the fact that Roosevelt contradicts himself at various points, and his account of the events often clashes with many, including the CIA (see their leaked WIlber Report which the New York Times obtained in 2000), the State Department, etc.

I am not arguing that the US did not play a significant role, but that this role is often exaggerated and misunderstood. Prior to Mossadeq's overthrow, the United States had been supportive of the Iranian leader, to the point where the British were worried that they would turn against them in the negotiations over the oil dispute. What is the most interesting and rarely addressed by academia is what happened to make the United States change their opinion and create a plan to remove Mossadeq from power.

Following I have attached quotes directly from FRUS (although due to the documents mainly being telegraph transcripts, adding prepositions and conjunctions is often necessary) so that you can see some of the words of American officials in the time leading up to the 1953 coup. These are the same types of cables that Wikileaks released in their "Cablegate". Top secret, secret or otherwise classified, they were not intended for public consumption and were not meant to influence the contemporary public in any way.


Bold print is my emphasis


Ambassador Loy Henderson to the Department of State, 5 January, 1952
[It is] not necessary in this telegram [to] try [to] prove [that the] British have been systematically misjudging [the] Iran situation for at least [the] last two years. Research analysis of documents in [DoS's] files will show that [the] British have been stubbornly refusing [to] recognize [the] dynamics [of the] situation here. London still seems of [the] opinion [that the] forces of nationalism are temporary phenomena which will disappear in due course." 


Acting Secretary of State Harrison Matthews to the US Embassy in the UK, 30 January, 1953
Preliminary reaction to… was one of disappointment that Mossadeq at this stage would again attempt to alter the basis upon which we have all worked in an effort to secure [an] agreement. Further study, however, leads us to believe that we should not accept this change in a spirit of defeat but should continue under same compulsions as before to attempt to reach [an] agreement… 


Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, 10 February 1953
Also and again because of commercial factors outlined above, we believe British bargaining position will become worse in future, as regards Iran, than it is at present. It seems to us that this factor as well should be carefully analyzed by British before present negotiations are allowed to fail. 


Memorandum of Discussion at the 135th meeting of the NSC (National Security Council), 4 March 1953
The probable consequences of the events of the last few days, concluded Mr. Dulles, would be a dictatorship in Iran under Mossadegh. As long as the latter lives there was but little danger, but if he were to be assassinated or otherwise to disappear from power, a political vacuum would occur in Iran and the Communists might easily take over. 

The second course of action proposed by the Secretary of State was for the United States to disassociate itself, regarding Iran, from the British in an effort to regain popularity on the merits of a policy of our own… But, he said, it was known that our unpopularity in Iran is largely a derivation of British unpopularity and our previous association in the minds of Iranians with unpopular British policies. The trouble with such a course of action was this was whether we should not lose more by going it alone, in the face of British opposition in many other areas of the world, that we should gain in Iran itself. 

It was quite likely, therefore, that they [the Soviets] would increase their pressure in Iran to secure its control as rapidly as possible by a coup d' ├ętat. Such a course of action might constitute the miscalculation, which we all dreaded which would cause the beginning of World War III. Could not he British be made to see this dangerous potentiality?"

"If", said the President (Eisenhower), "I had $500,000,000 of money to spend in secret, I would get $100,00,000 of it to Iran right now."


Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to US Embassy in the UK 7 March, 1953
"There should be no large US purchases [of] oil. However, we should be tolerant of minor measures sufficient to keep Mosadeq barely afloat and thus attempt [to] avoid disastrous possibility of Communists replacing him. 




These excerpts do not seem like the words of a country plotting to overthrow a government. In fact, they appear to be the opposite of this. It is true that there were significant incidences of unrest in Iran in the spring of 1953 which may have changed the opinions of some in the government, but they are not addressed so well in the FRUS documents. In my mind the words here are much more convincing than the words of a fanciful liar like Kermit Roosevelt, but maybe that is just me. They still doesn't explain what exactly changed for the US government between March 1953 and August 1953 which made them want to overthrow Mossadeq.


FRUS files for Iran can be accessed here: University of Wisconsin Digital Collection

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