Monday, November 4, 2013

Relations between Mossadeq and the United States

'Excerpt' from a paper I wrote. Bear with me, it is quite lengthy:

Relations Between Mossadeq and the United States
            While there are many questions about the events of and leading up to the August 19, 1953 coup of Mohammad Mossadeq, the relationship between the Prime Minister and the United States provides some of the most interesting topics of discussion. Why did the US attitude towards Mossadeq change? How strongly did the Eisenhower administration feel that they wanted Mossadeq removed from power? Were the CIA, State Department and the White House in agreement on these issues? Was there a lack of communication between them? While many of the key figures have been dead for a long time now, there remain many primary documents which can be used to gain a better understanding of the Mossadeq coup.
            First and foremost among these are the documents in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, published by the Office of the Historian in the United States Department of State. These archival works document the inner workings of the White House and the Department of State (including the National Security Council), and include Top Secret documents. These are typically more accurate and reliable than contemporary public accounts because they are not intended for a global audience. US Government records remain classified for a minimum of 25 years, with exceptions being made to reclassify for an additional 25 years.[i] After 50 years since the even there are only a handful of situations where the documents will stay classified and they include information regarding designs for weapons of mass destruction, identities human intelligence sources or ‘special permission’.[ii] After 75 years, special permission is required to keep documents classified.[iii] With the assurance of secrecy for the minimum of 25 years, it is unlikely that the people who are being recorded would censor themselves due to concern over contemporary public perception. The documents are, more reliable than public statements, even by individuals intimately involved in the situation. They may not always be factually accurate, but there is little incentive to purposefully provide a false record for future administrations.
            While the FRUS papers do not answer all of the questions on what exactly led the Eisenhower administration to attempt a coup of Mossadeq, they include many important documents which are indicative the thoughts and attitudes of the parties involved. The FRUS papers include; telegrams to and from the American Ambassador to Iran, Loy Henderson; telegrams to and from the American Embassy in the UK; and (NSC) National Security Council memos. A significant problem with the FRUS papers is that they are incomplete; not every telegram to and from the US Embassy in Iran is in the public domain. Officially all of the documents are available at the National Archives, but an index of these documents is only available on site. It is more than possible that many documents of significance are still classified by the State Department, but unfortunately I was unable to visit the archives myself.
            The FRUS papers on Iran for the years 1952-1954 (Volume X) released by the State Department includes an important undated memo from the staff of the NSC on the position of the United States towards Iran towards the end of the Truman administration (1951)[iv]. In this brief memo, titled “The Position of the United States With Respect to Iran”, the basic principles of containing and preventing Soviet influence from spreading are enumerated. The authors envision the Soviets as a potential threat to both geopolitical and economic interests of the United States. They believe that most dangerous scenarios include an interruption in the vital supply of petroleum products, the potential for the Soviets to build military bases even closer to the American allies' "lines of defense" and perhaps most importantly, serious harm to the global image of the United States if their sphere of influence were undermined in this manner. While the authors of these memos are clearly not the same officials as those which Mossadeq had relations with, it is important to note what is prioritized in the writings. There are mentions of freedom and liberty being important to American geopolitics, but the emphasis clearly is on countering and combating the Soviet Union in every way possible. The idea of Iranians willingly adopting communism or acquiescing to Soviet "domination" appears to be unfathomable for the authors. This gives the impression that they did not see American interference as undemocratic, even if a despotic regime were to be supported. Perhaps the most telling bit of information in this memo is section 26, where the following is stated: "In the event Iran assumes an attitude of neutrality in the "cold war", political steps by the United States and United Kingdom to restore Iranian alignment with the free world would be required." Mossadeq was probably not privy to this sentiment, as he would likely have acted differently towards the United States government with this knowledge in hand.
Another national security document, NSC 136/1 illustrates the commitment of US to prevent Iran from falling under Communist control.[v] It makes absolutely no mention of overthrowing Mossadeq, but hints at the possibility of instability in Iran, and the need for a backup-plan if the situation were to become untenable. This memorandum was written at the very end of President Truman’s term. The Truman's administration attitude towards the AIOC/Iran oil dispute can be best characterized by the following:
"While in general [the] United States does not favor nationalization, [the] US recognizes [the] right of sovereign states to nationalize provided prompt payment [of] just compensation [is] made. However, this policy [is] not publicized abroad as it might encourage [foreign] states to nationalize. [State Department is] not at present opposing AIOC nationalization because of (1), and because such opposition [would] in present circumstances jeopardize politically US and West in Iran and might result in loss of Iran to [Soviets]."[vi]
When Democrat Harry Truman was succeeded by Republican Dwight Eisenhower, the American policy towards Iran was bound to change. With a new Secretary of State coming to power, and a more conservative government in place, it was only a matter of time before this happened. Despite the fact that Eisenhower's presidency initially supported the Iranians by continuing aid and also attempted to mediate between the colonial-minded British and Prime Minister Mossadeq, within a few months it became clear that negotiations were not going well. The President and his Cabinet, in addition to US Ambassador to Iran, Loy Henderson quickly grew disillusioned with Mossadeq and his efforts to work towards a resolution in the oil dispute. Ambassador Henderson wrote to the Secretary of State about how he had prepared proposals for Mossadeq which he felt are fair, but Mossadeq continuously changed his mind about what he wanted, and spent a significant effort trying to change the language of the potential agreement. At one point in January 1953, Henderson wrote back to Washington exasperated at Mossadeq for changing his mind and the terms of the agreement.[vii] Ambassador Henderson wrote that; '[Mossadeq] has been talking for many months [regarding] international arbitration; now he says he prefers "adjudication" to "arbitration"'. What makes this more difficult for Henderson and the United States is that these are often translations from English to Persian and different words carry different connotations. The words may or may not be perfectly synonymous, and there was likely a fear from Mossadeq of his government and the Iranian people being taken advantage of in the future if the language was not precise. However, the Iranian economy was struggling at this point, and with petroleum being the major export product, any sort of agreement would have alleviated some of the financial troubles of Iran.[viii] President Eisenhower was aware of the problems facing the Iranian economy, when he stated in a March 1953 National Security Council meeting: "If I had $500,000,000 of money to spend in secret, I would get $100,00,000 of it to Iran right now."[ix]
            Compounding economic woes and the change in the American administration from liberal to conservative, the British government as well had just transitioned from liberal to conservative leadership in their own elections. Despite the change in government of both states, the record shows that the Americans at least did not immediately move towards overthrowing Mossadeq. In fact, they seem to want to keep him in power due to fears of Iran becoming unstable if Mossadeq were to fall from power. This, in their mind, would without a doubt lead to a Communist takeover of Iran, followed by a domino effect where the entire region would eventually fall to the Soviets.
            Henderson's telegrams back to Washington, indicate that he was either unfamiliar with the role of the CIA, or that the agency had less of a hand in the events of 19 August, 1953 than Kermit Roosevelt, and innumerable academics have claimed. In fact Henderson himself stated in an interview 20 years later than he had no knowledge of the second coup attempt.[x] The CIA's Wilber Report, corroborates the idea that Henderson was not intimately involved in the alleged plot for the second coup attempt, while indicating that Henderson had at least some basic knowledge of the plans.[xi] While Henderson was not directly involved in the "war room" of Roosevelt with the Zahedis, the Rashidian brothers and CIA officer George A. Carroll, he was present at the location where it took place.[xii] That night Henderson went to meet Mossadeq to discuss several concerns, including the problem of American citizens in Iran being harassed by the Tudeh.[xiii] Countercoup contends that Roosevelt coached Henderson on how to act towards Mossadeq. However, the State Department cable of this meeting bears no mention of the alleged threats, and Mossadeq is portrayed in the cable as being friendly towards Henderson, while also implying that he knew that the US had had some role in the attempted coup of August 16th.[xiv]
            As the plans for the CIA coup were apparently drawn up in the middle of March 1953, the change in perspective of the United States must have occurred in the course of the few days between the March 5th National Security Council meeting where Eisenhower expressed support for Mossadeq and the plans.[xv] Unfortunately the FRUS documents for this time period are sparse at best and bear no mention of the change. In fact, up until August of 1953, telegrams from Ambassador Henderson show evidence that there were attempts to revive the oil dispute negotiations. The shift in United States policy is unfortunately currently not evident from the FRUS documents. There may be additional cables that have yet to been declassified, but this is unclear. What is certain is that there are large gaps in what is contained within the FRUS Iran documents and what actually exists or existed. Cables are numbered sequentially and there are gaps of over 200 digits in the sequence at points in 1953. There are hundreds or even thousands of cables to and from the US Embassy in Iran which are not included in the FRUS report. These files may be available at the National Archives, but for whatever reason they are not included in the FRUS Iran collection.
            The next place to look for a change in US policy would be the CIA's documents. As the executors of the coup of August 16th, they would have been tasked with the planning aspect. Despite the secrecy involved with this organization, there are some files which have either been made available or leaked. There is also speculation that the CIA may have been acting independently from the Truman administration and the State Department,[xvi] and that this possibly could have continued in Eisenhower’s administration. The head of the CIA under President Eisenhower, Allen Dulles, along with his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, were both senior partners in the law firm which represented the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.[xvii] If anything, the connections between the CIA and the AIOC raises the possibility that there was some coordinated effort between the two organizations against Mossadeq.
            A CIA internal history written in 1998 and partially released (though heavily redacted), indicates that the breakdown of the oil negotiations was the reason for the Americans change in attitude towards Iran.[xviii] The problem with this assertion is that there is very little support within the document (due to the redaction), and many of the documents which might contradict or support this are also unavailable. According to this document, in March 1953, Foreign Minister Anthony Eden met with US State Department officials to discuss the oil crisis and:
"found the Americans much more receptive to the British viewpoint than they had been under Truman and Acheson. The collapse of the Anglo-Iranian oil negotiations had changed the Americans' attitude; Washington now considered Mossadeq a source of instability, and feared that his continued tenure invited a Tudeh coup."[xix]
The problem with this passage, is that Eden's meetings with the State Department was between the 4th and 7th of March[xx], before Mossadeq had withdrawn from oil negotiations on the 9th of March[xxi]. Why was Eden operating under the assumption that the negotiations (that he was not even involved in as they were between the US and Mossadeq) had already collapsed when in fact they officially did not collapse until Mossadeq withdrew?
            The account of the meeting from the State Department cables indicates at least nominal support from the US for Mossadeq. Secretary of State Dulles is paraphrased saying that:
“The probable consequences of the events of the last few days 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 Communist might easily take over”[xxii]
Dulles is often blamed for pushing the US and President Eisenhower towards overthrowing Mossadeq, but from this account of the National Security Council (NSC), he does not seem interested in a coup, but rather in keeping Mossadeq in power. It is possible that Dulles was purposefully misleading the NSC, but it does seems strange that Dulles would appear to be so strongly committed to a certain belief, and then change his mind so quickly, and also inexplicably. In either case, the documentation again is contradictory.
            Another cable from Secretary Dulles to the US Embassy in the UK following his meetings with Minister Eden on the 4th-7th, warns that the recent events of civil unrest may lead to more influence for the Tudeh Party in Iran, Mossadeq was expected to remain in power, and that the US should attempt "to keep Mosadeq barely afloat and thus attempt [to] avoid [the] disastrous possibility of Communists replacing him".[xxiii] The failure of the oil negotiations may in fact have had the exact impact on the Americans' attitude as the CIA file claims, but the evidence given as proof, does not fit chronologically.
            According to the CIA internal history, and Eisenhower’s biographer, the President had to have given the approval for TP/AJAX, although he preferred to keep his distance as to insulate himself from any allegations of him supporting a coup attempt on a foreign leader.[xxiv] These documents also state that he did NOT discuss this with his NSC or with his Cabinet, so there would not have been a record of when exactly he gave the order, and why he decided to do so. This, coupled with the fact that many CIA documents were allegedly destroyed from this time period could explain why there is no evidence of the switch in US policy vis-a-vis Iran.
            Another important document from the CIA, the Wilber Report, was written in 1954 by Donald Wilber (and leaked in 2000 to the New York Times), a CIA officer involved in the planning and execution of TP/AJAX. This file provides a relatively frank inside look from the CIA's perspective. Because this was all classified as secret or higher, it, like the State Department cables, was intended for internal use only. It was not meant to be publicly disseminated.
            The Wilbert Report makes the assertion that in March of 1953 a General (name redacted) had contacted the CIA and requested an assessment from Ambassador Henderson "whether or not the US Government was interested in covertly supporting an Iranian military effort to oust Premier Mossadeq".[xxv] While it does not state whether the Ambassador received this request, this implies cooperation between the State Department and the CIA, or at least the CIA and Ambassador Henderson. Katouzian also implies that Henderson was working with the CIA, and that the rest of “the American government was not yet fully aware of these activities of its own departments”.[xxvi] State Department files indicate a telegram from Ambassador Henderson to the Department of State relating a similar type of request from Hossein Ala, the previous Prime Minister.[xxvii] According to this telegram, Ala asked Henderson if the United States still supported Mossadeq as there was a group of military officers who were looking to overthrow him.[xxviii] Ala then said that if Henderson believed that "there was still [a] good chance Mossadeq would be able to effect settlement [of the] oil problem, [they] might decide [to] postpone taking action." Henderson wrote that he "expressed surprised Ala would put such a question. I had already informed him several times [that] the US [was] not supporting Mossadeq or anyone else as Prime Minister.
            Hossein Ala was not a general, and though these events both occurred during the month of March 1953, it is uncertain if both documents are referring to the same instance or a different one. If Henderson had previously been contacted by the CIA or the Iranian general, wouldn't it make sense that the Ambassador would have mentioned this other request in the telegram? It may be possible that Henderson was acting outside the scope of his position and beyond the reach of the State Department and sending false or misleading information back to John Foster Dulles, but this seems illogical. If Ambassador Henderson was in the know regarding the coup the CIA and MI6 had been planning since the middle of March this request for information from Ala would likely have been troubling to him.
            The other important question on the Wilber Report is why this incident was not included. Where there two separate groups in Iran planning for Mossadeq’s overthrow? The military was more or less pro-Shah, and Ala had strong ties to the Shah as well it would seem as though these two groups would be unlikely to operate independently. Overall the Wilber Report and the FRUS documents do not go well together, and again the role of various participants is questioned. Henderson seems to be portrayed as both an active part of the coup plan, and an innocent bystander. These contradictory descriptions make it even more difficult to determine when the US position towards Iran actually changed. Was Henderson feigning innocence so the State Department was unaware of the imminent coup plans?

[i] The White House "Executive Order 13526." Office of the Press Secretary. December 29, 2009. Web. May 29, 2013. <>
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Ibid
[iv] Study Prepared by the Staff of the National Security Council, "The Position of the United States With Respect to Iran", (undated), FRUS, 1952-1954, Vol. X:Iran, p. 11-21 (the documents before and after this one are from the middle of March 1951)
[v] Statement of Policy Proposed by the National Security Council, "NSC 136: United States Policy Regarding the Present Situation in Iran", (Washington, November 20, 1952), FRUS, 1952-1954, Vol. X, p. 529-534
[vi] The Secretary of State to the Embassy in Iran, (Washington, March 17, 1951), FRUS, 1953-1954, Vol. X, p. 25
[vii] Telegram 2763, from the Ambassador in Iran (Henderson) to the Department of State, January 17, 1953, FRUS, 1952-1954, Vol. X: Iran, p.634
[viii] Azimi, Fakhreddin. Iran: The Crisis of Democracy. 1989. p. 281
[ix] Memorandum of discussion at the 135th meeting of the National Security Council, March 4, 1953, FRUS, 1953-1954, Vol. X:Iran, p. 691-701
[x] Bayandor, Darioush. Iran and the CIA: The Fall of Mosaddeq Revisited. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010167
[xi] Wilber, Donald (2000), Clandestine Service History: Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran, November 1952-August 1953.
[xii] Ibid 57
[xiii] Telegram 384, from the Ambassador in Iran (Henderson) to the Department of State, August 18, 1953, FRUS, 1952-1954, Vol. X: Iran, p.748-752
[xiv] Telegram 384, from the Ambassador in Iran (Henderson) to the Department of State, August 18, 1953, FRUS, 1952-1954, Vol. X: Iran, p.748-752
[xv] Memorandum of discussion at the 135th meeting of the National Security Council, March 4, 1953, FRUS, 1953-1954, Vol. X:Iran, p. 691-701
[xvi] Foran, John. "Democratization, Separatism, Nationalization, Coup." Fragile Resistance: Social Transformation in Iran from 1500 to the Revolution. Boulder [u.a.: Westview, 1993 293
[xvii] Ibid
[xviii] Koch, Scott A., "Zendebad, Shah!": The Central Intelligence Agency and the Fall of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, August 1953," Top Secret Draft History, History Staff, Central Intelligence Agency, June 1998.
[xix] Ibid 16
[xx] Memorandum of discussion at the 135th meeting of the National Security Council, March 4, 1953, FRUS, 1953-1954, Vol. X:Iran, p. 694
[xxi] Telegram 3605, from the Ambassador in Iran (Henderson) to the Department of State, March 9, 1953, FRUS, 1952-1954, Vol. X: Iran, p.703
[xxii] Memorandum of discussion at the 135th meeting of the National Security Council, March 4, 1953, FRUS, 1953-1954, Vol. X:Iran, p. 693
[xxiii] Telegram 5959, from the Secretary of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom, March 7, 1953, FRUS, 1952-1954, Vol. X: Iran, p.702
[xxiv] Koch 20
[xxv] Wilber 2
[xxvi] Katouzian, Homa. "Democratization, Separatism, Nationalization, Coup." Musaddiq's Memoirs. By Mohammad Mosaddeq. Trans. Homa Katouzian. London: 1988. 55
[xxvii] Telegram 3853, from the Ambassador in Iran (Henderson) to the Department of State, March 31, 1953, FRUS, 1952-1954, Vol. X: Iran, p. 719-721
[xxviii] Telegram 3853, p 720

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