Intro: Truman and Mossadegh
Messages on Iran Oil Dispute (June-July 1951)

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | January 12, 2021                               


Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, Prime Minister of Iran and U.S. President Harry S. Truman

The first communication between President Harry Truman and Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh occurred during a period of great tension between Iran and Britain.

On June 1, 1951, Truman sent messages to Mossadegh and British Prime Minister Clement Attlee to express concern over the volatile oil standoff. Back in Tehran, U.S. Ambassador Henry Grady handed Mossadegh a copy of the letter, but accidentally gave him a copy meant for Attlee. As the two letters were similar and impartial in tone, the only harm done was a little embarrassment.

Afterward, Mossadegh reportedly told the Majles: “Mr. Truman recognizes the principle of nationalization, but maybe the British are not bound by his recognition...I myself have heard from the British ambassador that the British are ready to agree to “a kind of nationalization,” which is quite different from agreeing to nationalization as an accomplished fact.”

Mossadegh answered Truman on June 28th, writing that Iran was ready and willing to negotiate in good faith, but that AIOC representatives repeatedly sought to contravene the oil nationalization law they claimed to recognize. The same day, Britain withdrew 130 of its personnel from Abadan, 60 of them high-ranking employees.

The Associated Press quoted the reaction of one unnamed British official to the letter: “There’s not a thing new in it. There’s not the slightest inclination to try and get a reachable settlement.” A day earlier, Sec. of State Dean Acheson publicly blamed Iran for the “atmosphere of threat and fear”. Meanwhile, the 8,000-ton British cruiser Mauritius lingered just across the border, as British jet fighters soared nearby at the ready.

In his July 8th reply to Mossadegh, Truman strongly urged Iran to follow the recent suggestion of the World Court. And to demonstrate how seriously he took the situation, he offered to send Averell Harriman to Iran as his special representative. These suggestions had actually originated with Acheson in a talk with British Ambassador Oliver Franks and others, and were also run by Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison.

Amb. Henry Grady delivered a Persian translation of Truman’s letter on July 9th. Reported Grady: “The Prime Minister read this document slowly and with careful attention and then, laying down the paper, burst into laughter for as long as thirty seconds. “This comes too late”, he said.” Word of Mossadegh’s reaction “deeply concerned” Acheson, who urged Grady to stress the gravity of Truman’s proposals to the Prime Minister.

Mossadegh’s response to Truman on July 11th, however, was more diplomatic. Though he reiterated Iran’s non-negotiable committment to oil nationalization in principle and law, he welcomed the offer to host Harriman in Tehran for further discussion.

Text of the first four Truman-Mossadegh messages follows. Note that despite the media publicity, the first message from Truman was not released at the time, not until the 1989 FRUS volume on Iran. However, the three others were published in the State Department bulletin and some appeared in various newspapers like The New York Times.




888.2553 AIOC/6–151

No. 26
President Truman to Prime Minister Mosadeq


SECRET
June 1, 1951

I express to you the serious concern of the Government of the United States at the controversy between Iran and Great Britain concerning operations of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. The United States is a close friend of both countries. It is anxious that a solution be found which will satisfy the desires of the Iranian people for nationalization of their petroleum resources, and at the same time will safeguard basic British interests and assure the continued flow of Iranian oil into the economy of the free world.

I am convinced that both the Iranian and British Governments are willing and anxious to work out arrangements which will achieve these objectives. It is clear that they can be achieved only if the Iranian Government is willing to discuss with representatives of Great Britain all of the outstanding issues, without confining their talks merely to technical details. I earnestly hope that the Iranian Government will, in its efforts to carry out its nationalization program, do so by friendly negotiation.

I am sure you can understand my deep concern that in this situation no action be taken impeding a settlement, which is of great importance to the whole free world. I am confident that a solution acceptable both to Iran and Great Britain can and will be found. I sincerely hope that every effort will be made to accomplish this objective.

[Abbreviations removed from opening sentence]

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954, Volume X (1989)

• U.S. State Department Office of the Historian: “On June 1 Ambassador Grady reported that due to a mistake at the Embassy in Tehran, the message to Attlee (supra) had been delivered to Prime Minister Mosadeq at 11:30 that morning. (Telegram 3084 from Tehran; 888.2553/6–151) As soon as this became known the Department of State and the Embassy in London expressed to the British their sincere regrets at the error, and the Department of State undertook the drafting of a substitute message from President Truman to Prime Minister Mosadeq.

The text of the substitute, printed here, was transmitted to Tehran at 7 p.m. on June 1 in telegram 2267 with the instruction that Ambassador Grady ask Mosadeq to substitute it for the message to Attlee and retain the latter for his private information only. A copy of the substitute message was also sent to London for delivery to the British. Ambassador Grady decided that it would be unwise to attempt to withdraw the Attlee message since Mosadeq had already released it to the press, and on June 3 he delivered the substitute. Mosadeq expressed his appreciation for the impartiality of the United States in sending both sides essentially the same plea to open negotiations and released the text of the second message to the press. (Telegrams 3100 and 3109 from Tehran, both dated June 4; 888.2553 AIOC/6–451) Further documentation on the delivery of the messages, the regrets expressed to the British, the drafting of the substitute note, and its delivery to Mosadeq is in files 888.2553/6–151 through 6–451 and 888.2553 AIOC/6–151 through 6–451.

Mosadeq responded on June 11, thanking President Truman for his interest and concern, but pointing out that the negotiations over nationalization were the exclusive responsibility of the Iranian Government and the AIOC, not the British Government. (888.2553 AIOC/6–1151)”



June 28, 1951

Dear Mr. President:

Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, Prime Minister of Iran The special interest you have shown on various occasions in the welfare of our country in general, and in the recent oil question in particular, and the personal message you were kind enough to send me on 3 June 1951, prompt me to inform you that the Imperial Iranian Government has been duty-bound to put into force the law enacted by the two Houses of Parliament concerning the nationalization of the oil industry all over Iran and the modus operandi of that law in the quickest possible time.

Notwithstanding the urgency of the matter, the measures for the enforcement of the law were taken in a very gradual manner and with extreme care and caution, both in order to ensure the success of the preliminary steps, and also in order to bring about an understanding between the Government of Iran and the former oil company, and to give ample time to the latter for negotiations between their representatives and this Government.

The Imperial Iranian Government was ready in all sincerity to make the best possible use of this opportunity and it paid great attention to this matter especially in view of your kind message and the friendly mediations of the US Ambassador in Tehran, and agreed with the request of the former oil company for the extension of the time limit originally fixed for these negotiations. Thus no measures were taken during 45 days after the enactment of the law. [Amb. Henry F. Grady]


The Imperial Iranian Government had repeatedly announced its readiness to enter into negotiations with the representatives of the company within the limits prescribed by the law fixing the modus operandi of its enforcement, and to discuss willingly various problems such as the question of the probable losses to the former oil company and the sale of oil to the former purchasers, etc. The Government, therefore, welcomed the arrival of the representatives of the former oil company, but it was found with great regret that the representatives of the former company wished to submit proposals which were contrary to the text of the laws concerning the nationalization of the oil industry and which made it unable for this Government to continue the discussions.

Since the Imperial Iranian Government has decided to prevent any stoppage, even for one day, in the exploitation of oil and its sale to the former purchasers, it has repeatedly announced its readiness to employ all foreign experts, technicians and others in the service of the oil industry with the same salaries, allowances and pensions due to them, to provide them with all encouragement, to leave untouched the present organization and administration of the former oil company, and to enforce, so far as they may not be contrary to the provisions of the law, the regulations made by that company.

It is, however, noticed with regret that former oil company authorities have resorted to certain actions which will necessarily cause a stoppage in the exportation of oil; for, firstly, they are encouraging the employees to leave their services, and are threatening the Government with their resignation en masse; secondly, they force the oil tankers to refuse to deliver receipts to the present Board of Directors of the National Oil Company.

Although the Iranian people have prepared themselves for every kind of privations in their resolve to achieve their aim, yet there is no doubt that the stoppage in the exploitation of oil machinery is not only damaging to us but it is also damaging to Great Britain and to all other countries which use the Iranian oil—a grave and serious matter which should be borne in mind by the authorities of the former oil company.

There is no doubt that the Government of Iran will take every effort with all the means at its disposal to prevent any stoppage, even temporarily, in the flow of oil, but it would be the cause for great regret if any stoppage occurred as the result of the resignation en masse of the British employees, or any delaying tactics in loading and shipping of the oil products because of the refusal on their part to give the receipts required. In such an eventuality the responsibility for the grave and undesirable consequences which might follow will naturally lie upon the shoulders of the former oil company authorities.

It must be mentioned at this stage that in spite of the public fervor in Iran there is no danger whatever to the security of life and property of the British nationals in Iran. Any spreading of false rumors on the part of the agents of the former oil company might, however, cause anxieties and disturbances; whilst if they acted in conformity with the expectations of the Iranian Government, there will be no cause whatever for any anxiety, for the Imperial Iranian Government has the situation well in hand.

Owing to the age-long and continuous cordial relations existing between the peoples of Iran and the US, I am confident that no disturbance will ever occur in that happy relation, for the world regards the great and esteemed American nation as the strong supporter of the freedom and sovereignty of nations—a belief evidenced by the sacrifices of the great-hearted nation in the last two World Wars.

Such reflections have moved me to lay before you, Mr. President, the recent developments in Iran, and I am quite sure that the free nations of the world and specially the Government of the friendly nation of America will not hesitate to support us in achieving our national ideal.

I avail myself of this opportunity to offer you, Mr. President, the expressions of my highest consideration and my most sincere wishes for the prosperity of the great American nation.

MOHAMMED MOSADEQ


• Source: The Department of State Bulletin | Vol. XXV, No. 627 • Publication 4278, July 9, 1951
"President Receives Letter From Iranian Prime Minister", pg. 72-73

[Released to the press by the White House June 28]”

”Following is the text of a letter to the President from His Excellency, Mohammed Mosadeq, Prime Minister of Iran:


Also in: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954, Volume X (1989)

• “Transmitted to the Department of State in telegram 3466 from Tehran, June 28, in which Grady also reported that it had been handed to him by Foreign Minister Kazemi that morning and that the Iranian Government was releasing it to the press at 6 p.m. Tehran time.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian


THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON


July 8, 1951

My Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I am most grateful to Your Excellency for giving me in your recent letter a full and frank account of the developments in the unhappy dispute which has arisen between your government and the British oil interests in Iran. This matter is so full of dangers to the welfare of your own country, of Great Britain and of all the free world, that I have been giving the most earnest thought to the problems involved. I had hoped that the common interests of the two countries directly involved and the common ground which has been developed in your discussions would open the way to a solution of the troublesome and complicated problems which have arisen. You know of our sympathetic interest in this country in Iran’s desire to control its natural resources. From this point of view we were happy to see that the British Government has on its part accepted the principle of nationalization.

Since British skill and operating knowledge can contribute so much to the Iranian oil industry I had hoped—and still hope—that ways could be found to recognize the principle of nationalization and British interests to the benefit of both. For these reasons I have watched with concern the breakdown of your discussions and the drift toward a collapse of oil operations with all the attendant losses to Iran and the world. Surely this is a disaster which statesmanship can find a way to avoid.

Recently I have come to believe that the complexity of the problems involved in a broad settlement and the shortness of the time available before the refinery must shut down—if the present situation continues—require a simple and practicable modus vivendi under which operations can continue and under which the interests of neither side will be prejudiced. Various suggestions to this end have failed. The time available is running out.

In this situation a new and important development has occurred. The International Court of Justice, which your Government, the British Government and our own all joined with other nations to establish as the guardian of impartial justice and equity has made a suggestion for a modus vivendi.

Technical considerations aside, I lay great stress on the action of the Court. I know how sincerely your Government and the British Government believe in the positions which you both have taken in your discussions. However, I am sure you believe even more profoundly in the idea of a world controlled by law and justice which has been the hope of the world since the San Francisco Conference. Apart from questions of jurisdiction no one will doubt the impartiality of the World Court, its eminence and the respect due to it by all nations who signed the United Nations treaty.

Therefore, I earnestly commend to you a most careful consideration of its suggestion. I suggest that its utterance be thought of not as a decision which is or is not binding depending on technical legal considerations, but as a suggestion of an impartial body, dedicated to justice and equity and to a peaceful world based upon these great conceptions. A study of its suggestion by your Government and by the British Government will, I am sure, develop methods of implementing it which will carry out its wise and impartial purpose—maintaining the operation of the oil industry and preserving the positions of both Governments. Surely no government loses any element of its sovereignty or the support of its people by treating with all possible consideration and respect the utterance of this great court. Our own government and people believe this profoundly. Should you take such a position I am sure that the stature of Iran would be greatly enhanced in the eyes of the world.

I have a very sincere desire, Mr. Prime Minister, to be as helpful to you as possible in this circumstance. I have discussed this matter at length with Mr. W. Averell Harriman who, as you know, is one of my closest advisers and one of our most eminent citizens. Should you be willing to receive him I should be happy to have him go to Tehran as my personal representative to talk over with you this immediate and pressing situation.

May I take this opportunity to assure Your Excellency of my highest consideration and to convey to you my confidence in the future well-being and prosperity of Iran.

HARRY S. TRUMAN


• Source: The Department of State Bulletin | Vol. XXV, No. 630 • Publication 4306, July 23, 1951
MESSAGE FROM PRESIDENT TRUMAN TO IRANIAN PRIME MINISTER, pg. 129
[Released to the press by the White House July 9]

Also in: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954, Volume X (1989)



July 11, 1951

Dear Mr. President:

Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, Prime Minister of Iran I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your friendly message of 8th July handed to me by His Excellency the Ambassador of the United States in Teheran just after the government of Iran had taken its decision with regard to the findings of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. I deem it my duty to thank you once again, Mr. President, for the care you have always taken in the welfare of this country.

As I mentioned in my previous letter, the government and people of Iran recognize the government and the people of the United States as the staunch supporters of right and justice and appreciate therefore, with complete sincerity, the interest you are taking in the solution of the economic difficulties of Iran in general and in the oil question in particular.

I am extremely glad to note your reference, Mr. President, to the sympathy and interest of the American Nation in the realization of Iran’s national aspirations and the acceptance of the principle of nationalization of the oil industry; for Iran has had and is having no aim other than the acceptance of this principle by virtue of the laws ratified by the two Houses of Parliament, and has always been ready, within the terms of these laws to take any measures for the removal of the present disputes. It is, therefore, a matter of great regret that, insofar as Iran can judge, no proposal or suggestion has been made, up to the present, by the former oil company denoting their acceptance of the principle of nationalization of the oil industry in accordance with the laws ratified by the Parliament laws which the government is duty bound to put into force. On the contrary, in their note of 29th June, the representatives of the former oil company made proposals which were against the provisions of these laws and which resulted in the termination of the discussions.

Provided, of course, that our indisputable national rights are respected in accordance with the laws concerning the nationalization of the oil industry, the government and the people of Iran are ready to enter into immediate discussions with the aim to remove all the disputes so that there may be no stoppage in the production and exploitation of oil—a situation which the government of Iran has always been anxious to avoid and which, as you have mentioned, Mr. President, is causing losses to all concerned.

With reference to your desire, Mr. President, to help our country I must state without hesitation that the Iranian nation and government fully appreciate this high intent in all sincerity and candor, more so when they find that you have shown your readiness, Mr. President, to send to Teheran as your Special Representative Mr. Averell Harriman, one of the most distinguished American citizens, for consultations.

In the light of our knowledge of Mr. Harriman’s personality and his vast experiences, and considering the fact that he will act as your representative, the Iranian government welcomes this gesture and hopes to take full advantage of consultations with a man of such high standing. In the meanwhile it would also give him the opportunity to become directly acquainted with our views and to obtain first hand knowledge of our living conditions and requirements.

May I avail myself of this opportunity to offer you, Mr. President, the expressions of my best and most sincere regards.

MOHAMMED MOSADEQ


[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

The Eisenhower - Mossadegh Cables: Complete Exchange of Messages
The Eisenhower - Mossadegh Cables: Complete Exchange of Messages


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Related links:

Amb. Henry Grady Reports on Mossadegh Meeting (July 29, 1951)

Amb. Walter Gifford’s Telegram on Britain and Iran (July 29, 1951)

What Went Wrong in Iran? | Saturday Evening Post, Jan. 5, 1952



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