Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Why is State Delaying the Release of the Updated 1952-1954 Iran FRUS?

UPDATE #1 (March 7, 2017): Nate Jones from the National Security Archive tweeted a few cryptic tweets about the delay:

The initial reason for the delay was to keep the negotiations going, yet "until the final day" of Obama's term they fought to delay the FRUS edition. It is now delayed until 2018 or later. 

I tweeted the following about this: 

What doesn't the Obama admin want the public (US, or Iran), or the Iran regime, or the world to know?? This is very suspicious and illogical.


For all the strange and unprofessional behavior by the State Department over the last few years, something curiously ignored is the persistent delays in the scheduled re-release of the 1952-1954 Iran Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) collection.

FRUS is an invaluable tool for academics and researchers as it contains primary archival material hosted online by the University of Wisconsin in an organized and easily accessible form. All of this and much more is also available in the National Archives II in College Park Maryland, but the documents are not in any particular order, are not sorted and accessing them is inconvenient.

The 1953 Iran coup is fascinating for a number of reasons, and sensitive to many parties because of the injustice of overthrowing a legally appointed premier. As I've noted in the past, the full story is not evident from the documents that we have; there are too many inconsistencies and holes in the timeline. This has not stopped academics and pseudo-academics from pontificating and making grandiose judgements based upon such shoddy work as the "memoirs" of Kermit Roosevelt; a work that is known to have been at least partially edited by the CIA at the behest of BP and perhaps other unknown parties. It is unclear how the edits changed the story, but a cursory glance through the text shows how it is barely more than a dime novel.

FRUS, as the primary collection of archival documents from the Department of State, has a certain authority to it. Even though significant pieces of the archive are missing from the current edition of the Iran as I noted here and here, and an unknown number of cables and documents remain classified (well beyond the legally justified time period), there is a lot there.

At least a few of the top books on the coup were written by authors who apparently had never even been to the archives; the only State Department cables cited by them are also included in the existing FRUS. Given my personal experience digging through the boxes at Archives II, I know there are other cables there that have academic value to the study of this important event.

The Department of State announced years ago that there would be an updated version of the collection updated, yet in September 2014 announced that "the Department had decided to delay publication because of ongoing negotiations with Iran". It has now been almost a year since the nuclear deal was signed, yet the updated FRUS has not been released.

In December of 2015, the Office of the Historian held a meeting where the release of the collection was discussed. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Valerie Fowler indicated that "the timeline was to release the volume at the earliest possible moment, but that external developments and considerations were important too".

What could these "external developments and considerations" entail? The National Security Archive believes that there could be documents confirming a British hand in the events. While in theory this should be plausible, it would not explain the early decision to release the updated version, before an abrupt about-face and decision to withhold the documents. The other problem with this theory is that the British had been kicked out of the country months earlier and so their intelligence apparatus was knee-capped by a closed embassy and limited access. This is partially why the US took the lead in conducting the first (planned) coup attempt.

Personally I think that the most likely possibility is that there are documents tying Iranians, potentially clerics associated with Ayatollah Kashani (or perhaps even Khomeini), to the coup and that this would infuriate the Iranians so much that they would have pulled out of negotiations. It is also possible that this could contain further details of United States involvement, but as the US is already blamed as the primary instigator and actor by Iran, it isn't like things could get much worse, is it?

Given the strange and inept way in which the State Department and the administration have handled public diplomacy regarding Iran (see Rhodes, Ben) I am deeply curious why they are not releasing the updated version. What are they trying to keep hidden?

No comments:

Post a Comment