From Richard Sale,
Stephen Kinzer did an article for the New York Times a week ago entitled, “Iran’s First Great Satan was England.”
Most of Kinzer’s article dealt with Iran’s battle over the Anglo-Iranian Oil Concession (AIOC), and used dialogue from exchanges between President Truman’s special envoy to Iran. W. Averill Harriman and the then Prime Minster Mohammad Mossadegh. Kinzer doesn’t ever identify the source of these lively exchanges, but they cone the memoirs of CIA asset Vernon Walters, Silent Missions.
I wanted to expand a bit on Kinzer. There were a couple of critical events that would prove to be the source of deadly enmity between Iran and England and the first of these, to my mind, was the Anglo-Russian invasion of Iran in August of 1941. This occurred at 4:34 am on the 24th and without any ultimatum or any declaration of war. Then Iranian ruler., Reza Shah, sent President Franklin Roosevelt a telegram that concluded, “I can no longer see for what reason these acts aggression and for bombing without reason our cities.”
(I later journeyed to London to talk to Reza Shah’s son in law, Gen Jam, who had written the telegram because Reza Shah’s English was extremely poor. Jam also had priceless anecdotes about Reza Shah’s exile in Mauritius.)
America knew the invasion was coming. US sources knew of the British military hospitals that had been built the previous July. Roosevelt depicted United States as the defender of the rights of small countries as one its war aims, (a prelude to helping to dismember the British Empire and said so in the Atlantic Charter of August 1941, (which Churchill didn’t sigh.)
But the Nazis had invaded Russian in June 22 of 1941 and Roosevelt decided to desert the noble principles of the Charter on the ground of strategic necessity – Iran would take allied supplies into Russia which was seen as in danger of collapse. After Roosevelt declared war that December, the British demanded that American forces in Iran were to be under British command, and the British never agreed to withdrawing their forces at the end of the war.
The British ruled Iran with a high hand. FDE hated the idea of government by “spheres of influence” and after US forces entered Iran, US officials there bridled at smug British arrogance. Not only had the British waged a disinformation campaign that destroyed Reza Shah’s standing and prestige and been a source of national humiliation, the British paid for the cost of their occupation by seizing Reza Sha’s personal fortune.
The repellent, racial British arrogance was incessant. At Abadan, there were military trucks with a red stripe marked “Senior Staff’ ferrying British officials, and trucks marked with a green stripe labeled “Junior Staff.” Since the “Junior Staff” were inevitably Iranians, D.H. Connally the American commander, took Studebaker trucks, painted and marked with green stripes, “Junior Staff,” and filled them with donkeys, and had them driven around the quarters of the appalled British.
Throughout the war the British and Americans competed with other in appointing their own stooges and functionaries to the various Iranian ministries like AC Millspaugh, or H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of a rural police system and others.
But the most serious US-Britain crisis occurred at the war’s end, in 1946. The cause was a secret British-Russian agreement to keep Iran divided after the war. In 1945 an Iranian Prime Minister, Ibrahim Hakami, a friend of America, had urged the removal of all foreign forces. British and Russia didn’t move a muscle, and in January 1946 the matter went to the U.N
The Azerbaijan crisis, as it was called, was publicly portrayed in America as one of the first cases of Soviet aggression, but the British part in it left unmentioned. A memo by the Joint Chiefs of Staff had concluded that the country’s division was liable to remain unless the U.S. took “vigorous action.” And America did. In January the Iranian Ambassador to he United States, Hussain Ala gave testimony before the Un Security Council, Kermit Roosevelt at the time labeling it “one of the most brilliant presentation in the annals of that council”
This was highly disingenuous, which is a diplomatic phrase for “egregious lie.” In fact, Ala’s testimony was authored by a U.S. intelligence operative John Laylin an attorney from the Covington and Burling in Washington, D.C.
Kinzer’s depiction of the operations and behavior of the Anglo Iranian Oil Concession lacked some detail, for AIOC was a state within a state, with its own airfields, and government and security forces, and America was ambitious to break it up. Max Thornburg, the State Department’s petroleum advisor sent Allan dullest go Iran where Dulles said that the AIOC was “the most reactionary of any company in the oil trade and guarded employed the word “rape” in connection with its Iranian operations.
AIOC was also stingy. The British were paying 25 percent royalties to the Iranians while the Americans were paying 50 percent to the Saudis. The result of that collision of US and British oil interests is well known. Mossadegh was seen as an Iranian nationalist, friendly to, but not a captive of American interests in the British-American struggle over Iran’s oil.
Unearthing the story about the CIA role in the Azerbaijan crisis merits brief remarks about sourcing and about how official US files can be used to conceal as much as they reveal.
I spent three weeks mousing about in the National Archives, and, by accident I saw a clip from a Romanian newspaper about the secret British-Russian deal to keep Iran divided. I was going through the files like a storm petrel scouring the seas when I saw the Romanian article. I wondered what it was doing there. It came from an Eastern bloc newspaper, under Soviet control, so why was it concluded. That baffled me at first, and then slowly the great light dawned: the Soviet bloc wasn’t always wrong nor was it always a liar. The National Archives had left the article there to mislead the unwary, of which I had been one. What followed were a lot of interviews before I had the story, the capstone being the widow of John Laylin being kind enough to open her husband’s files to me.
Anyway, I have taken too much time but I thought the story might be diverting.
With greetings to all.
It should be noted that Walters account of Mossadegh is a marvel. Walters was a man of genius in his powers of observation and his ear for speech. (His opinions were sometimes not very acute or well thought out. Mossadegh was about seventy years old at the time of his meeting with Harriman. The Iranian was frail, given to fainting fits, a thespian but a keen sense of how to work his will. After his predecessor was assassinated, Mossadegh repeated the words, “Terror, terror, terror,” to describe his perils.
But Mossadegh had an agile and fearless brain. When Harriman made the remark to the Iranian that nothing was greater than the sum of its parts, Mossadegh said, “That is false.” Harriman was dumbfounded and asked Walters, did he say it was false? And Walters said, yes, he had said it. And Mossadegh explained, “Consider the fox. It’s tail is often longer than he is,” and he put a pillow over his head and rolled about in laughter. Harriman was less amused.
But the great story of Mossadegh comes from his days in Switzerland when he wanted to get a driving license for its motorcycle. He was a student at Neuchatel and he could not take the instructor with him, and Mossadegh was to ride the bike down to the lake and return. But on route to the lake, he realized suddenly that he didn’t know how to stop the bike and barreled into an open air fruit stand run by an elderly Swiss woman. When he knocked the stand over, the woman screamed at him, “Cochon, cochon!” and Mossadegh turned to Harriman and Walters and said calmly, “Do you know what it meant to me, a Moslem, to be called a pig?”
This Walters’ account is full of riches.