CIA Gives Mossadegh the Side-Eye
“A radical departure in Iran’s political development”

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project
| March 23, 2018                                                          


CIA Documents on Iran, Mossadegh, 1953 Coup | 1951-1954

Premier Mossadegh had been in office for just over three weeks when this CIA Special Estimate, which amounted mainly to a character study, was produced.

The document was reviewed at an Intelligence Advisory Committee meeting held May 18th, 1951, and attended by 17 CIA, State Department and military officials including CIA Director Walter Bedell Smith. The report, Current Developments in Iran (SE-6) was finalized May 22nd.

About 90% of the estimate derived from a May 1st CIA memorandum on “Iranian Developments”, which is also presented here for comparison.




SPECIAL ESTIMATE

CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS IN IRAN


Number 6

Published 22 May 1951



The intelligence organizations of the Department of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Joint Staff participated in the preparation of this estimate. All members of the Intelligence Advisory Committee concurred in this estimate on 18 May 1951, except as noted by the Director of Intelligence, USAF, on page 2.

CONCLUSIONS

1. The clash of interests between Iran and the UK over Iran’s oil resources has reached a critical stage with the elevation of Mohammad Mossadeq, the leader of the ultra-nationalist National Front group, to the premiership. Although a real effort will undoubtedly be made to reach a compromise settlement, a solution will be achieved only with great difficulty. In any event, there is little indication that Mossadeq and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) will modify their respective stands in sufficient time to permit an early settlement of the issue.

2. Although there are important elements opposed to Mossadeq, it is unlikely that he can be removed from power so long as the oil question remains a burning issue, except by violence or by the establishment of a semi-dictatorial regime under the aegis of the Shah. In the present highly inflammatory state of Iranian public opinion, an attempt to set up a non-parliamentary regime would involve grave risks which the Shah has thus far shown no willingness to take.

3. As a result of the present impasse, the following critical developments may occur before a settlement is reached:

              a. Mossadeq might take physical possession of the oil installations now operated by the AIOC. He may also require the British employees of AIOC to leave the country.

              b. The UK has indicated that it will not employ force in Iran without prior consultation with the US. It is unlikely that the UK would attempt by force to forestall or counter physical occupation of the oil installations by the Iranian Government, but the UK could and might land troops in Iran for the actual or alleged purpose of safeguarding British lives in the event of further violence or sabotage.

              c. There is a serious possibility that the landing of British troops in southern Iran, for whatever reason, would be taken by the USSR as a pretext for sending its troops into northern Iran.

              d. In the event of further demonstrations and violence, which may well occur at any time, the Tudeh Party might be able to seriously undermine internal security. This danger would be increased if, as is possible, Mossadeq legalizes the status of the Tudeh Party or is unwilling to use Iranian armed forces to maintain order.

              e. The flow of Iranian oil to Western markets, which was recently curtailed for about two weeks, might be again interrupted by a recurrence of strikes in the oil field area or by a, b, c, or d above.

4. Any intensification of the current crisis would give the USSR added opportunities for exploiting the local unrest and might eventually enable the USSR to deny a large part or the whole of the Iranian oil supply to the Western Powers.*
_________________

*It is the view of the Director of Intelligence, USAF, [United State Air Force] that this paragraph should read as follows:

              “4. A continuation of the current crisis would greatly enhance the capability of the Soviet Union to deny more and possibly all the Iranian oil to the West through exploitation of the activities of non-Soviet elements. Whether or not the British attempt to resolve the current issue by the use of armed force, possible realization of an important Soviet objective -- acquisition of more oil -- will have been greatly facilitated.”

DISCUSSION

1. Mohammad Mossadeq, Iran’s new Prime Minister, is an extreme nationalist. He will attempt to curtail severely foreign influence in Iran and to adopt a neutralist policy toward the East-West struggle. As he is also an impractical visionary and a poor administrator, it is unlikely that he will do very much to solve the country’s critical economic and social problems. Nevertheless, because he is an astute politician and has strong popular support on the oil issue at least, he will probably not be easily displaced while that issue is still unsettled. In internal affairs Mossadeq has criticized former Iranian governments for their failure to achieve social benefits for the people and has opposed measures designed to restrict freedom of speech, assembly, and the press. Politically, he has urged that the Shah be stripped of power and that the Majlis become the dominant factor in the government. However, he does not believe that the present members of the Majlis truly represent the interests of the Iranian people and advocates electoral reform.

“[Mossadegh] has come to power as the leader of a national movement which has aroused intense popular support.”
2. Mossadeq is at present in a strong political position, despite the facts that he has few personal followers in the Majlis or in the traditional ruling class as a whole and that he is disliked and distrusted by the Shah. Unlike his predecessors, he is not dependent on the Shah’s favor or on factional politics in the Majlis. He has come to power as the leader of a national movement which has aroused intense popular support. This circumstance has caused the Majlis to nominate him to the Shah and compelled the Shah to appoint him to office. Fundamentally his strength derives from, and is in direct proportion to, the intensity of feeling against the British over the oil issue. Although other critical problems will plague his administration, they are not likely to cause his downfall so long as the oil crisis remains a burning issue. Mossadeq’s campaign against the AIOC has had the support not only of his National Front group but also of the Fedayan Islam (the small terrorist group of religious fanatics who were responsible for Razmara’s assassination), [Premier Ali Razmara] the illegal Tudeh (Communist) Party, and probably the great majority of Iran’s laborers, tradesmen, and students, who can significantly affect political developments in Iran through strikes, demonstrations, and violence. Both the Fedayan Islam and the Tudeh Party, however, are constantly attempting to coerce Mossadeq into adopting more extreme measures against Western interests. Fedayan Islam has apparently unseated its more moderate leader and has threatened Mossadeq’s life. Meanwhile, the Tudeh Party has gone beyond nationalization of the oil industry to demand ousting of the US military mission, refusal of US arms assistance, and closer relations with the USSR.

3. Because of the wide support for Mossadeq’s chauvinistic crusade, few Iranian leaders dared oppose him publicly. His influence in the Majlis was largely responsible for Razmara’s failure to obtain a revised AIOC agreement and loans from the Export-Import Bank and the IBRD. [International Bank for Reconstruction and Development] He condoned the assassination of Razmara on the grounds that the latter was traitorously lenient in his negotiations with the AIOC. Finally, he pushed the oil nationalization bills through the Majlis against the wishes of the Shah and Prime Minister Ala. [Hossein Ala] Many of the Majlis deputies probably voted for the measures against their better judgment, succumbing to the emotionalism of Mossadeq’s appeal or fearing the consequences (possibly including assassination) of opposing the measure.

“If, in fact, Mossadeq is able to reach a settlement with the AIOC which will substantially increase Iran’s oil revenues and provide for Iranian supervision of the oil installations, he will have achieved his purpose.”
4. When Hussein Ala was Prime Minister, Mossadeq was chairman of the Majlis Oil Commission appointed to draw up recommendations for taking over the AIOC installations. The Shah, Prime Minister Ala, and moderate members of the Majlis probably hoped that some agreement could be patched up with the AIOC before Mossadeq could complete his work. Mossadeq, however, reported to the Majlis more than a month ahead of schedule. Increased bitterness toward the UK, reinforced by the intervening strikes and violence in the oil field area, kept emotions high throughout the country and simplified Mossadeq’s job in obtaining prompt Majlis approval for his recommendations. The new law sets up a government committee to act as trustee for the oil properties until an Iranian Company can be established and provides for setting aside 25 percent of oil revenues to meet future claims of the “former company.” Mossadeq’s precipitate move to force action on the oil issue resulted in the immediate resignation of Ala.

5. Although the responsibilities of office may to some extent act as a sobering influence on Mossadeq, he will almost certainly attempt to implement the nationalization law and gain effective control of the oil installations in southern Iran. He might be willing to conclude a management contract with AIOC, under which the latter would operate the oil installations under the direction of an Iranian company. However, he would probably prefer to obtain the technical assistance Iran needs by means of separate contracts with individual specialists. If, in fact, Mossadeq is able to reach a settlement with the AIOC which will substantially increase Iran’s oil revenues and provide for Iranian supervision of the oil installations, he will have achieved his purpose. Although his prestige would be high, his position would probably be rapidly weakened by any considerable decline of anti-British feeling or by his inability to cope with Iran’s fundamental economic and social problems. There is some danger that he might attempt to maintain himself in power by turning his chauvinistic crusade against the US. He might even refuse to accept further US military aid and request the US military missions to leave the country.

6. In view of the fact that both Iran and the UK have a very great interest in the uninterrupted production of Iranian oil, a real effort will undoubtedly be made to reach a compromise settlement. However, in view of the attitude of both governments, a settlement can probably be reached only with great difficulty. The 11-man Oil Committee has already threatened to revoke the residence permits of AIOC’s foreign staff unless the AIOC turns over its oil installations to the Iranian Government. The UK has taken the position that Iran has no right unilaterally to abrogate its contract with AIOC and, therefore, no right to expropriate the oil installations under the guise of nationalization. The UK has proposed the establishment of a new British company to run operations in Iran, which would include Iranians on the board of directors; equal sharing of profits; and a progressive increase in the number of Iranians employed by the company. Mossadeq will undoubtedly turn down this offer, for it manifestly fails to meet the requirements of the oil nationalization law. The proposal certainly does not represent the final British position. However, a serious danger exists that critical developments will occur before the parties, particularly the British, have sufficiently modified their respective positions to permit initiation of genuine negotiations.

“The UK has taken the position that Iran has no right unilaterally to abrogate its contract with AIOC and, therefore, no right to expropriate the oil installations under the guise of nationalization.”
7. The present impasse in the oil situation may lead to any one or more of the following critical situations:

              a. Mossadeq is committed to a policy of expropriation. On the basis of his past actions, it is extremely unlikely that he will accept anything less than effective Iranian control of the oil industry. Consequently, if there is no early relaxation of the British position, he will probably attempt to take physical possession of the oil installations even at the risk of closing down the whole industry.

              b. The UK has indicated that it will not employ force in Iran without prior consultation with the US. It is unlikely that the UK would send its troops into the oil field area to forestall or counter occupation of the oil installations by the Iranian Government, but the UK could and might land troops in Iran for the actual or alleged purpose of safeguarding British lives and property in the event of further violence or sabotage. The British Government is under public pressure to adopt a strong policy against Iran, and British officials have indicated that they will have to consider very seriously resorting to military force if Iran unilaterally seizes the oil installations. If British troops landed in southern Iran and Iranian forces were already in the area or were subsequently sent into the area, for whatever reason, there might be clashes between British and Iranian troops with inevitable serious consequences, probably including an interruption in the flow of oil. Moreover, the landing of British troops in southern Iran might be taken by the USSR as a pretext for sending troops into northern Iran.

              c. Anti-British feeling will remain strong, and the danger of demonstrations and violence will continue. Mossadeq has consistently opposed martial law and restrictions on the freedom of speech, assembly, and the press. One of his first acts in office was to remove a ban on May Day demonstrations in Tehran, and martial law may soon be lifted in the Abadan area. Furthermore, although the Tudeh Party has begun to attack Mossadeq, he may yield to its demand for legal status. There is a danger that the Tudeh Party may attempt to take advantage of Mossadeq’s leniency to foment disturbances throughout the country and that Mossadeq will be unwilling to use Iranian armed forces to maintain order. In view of the tension and general unrest in the country, Tudeh activity might seriously undermine internal security.

              d. If Mossadeq takes physical possession of the oil installations, he will undoubtedly seek foreign assistance in operating the oil industry. A number of US oil companies have already shown some interest in the situation, and Mossadeq might well be able to persuade some company to operate in Iran on his terms. Such a development would create widespread British antagonism against the US. There is also a possibility that Mossadeq might attempt to obtain Soviet specialists to run the oil installations.

8. There is little doubt that sooner or later efforts will be made by the British, the Shah, and deputies in the Majlis to undermine Mossadeq’s position. However, in view of Mossadeq’s popular backing, it is unlikely that the Shah and the Majlis would dare oppose him while tension over the oil issue remains high. Mossadeq is more likely to force the oil issue by extreme action than permit himself to be undermined by the Shah and the Majlis on other internal issues. It is therefore unlikely that Mossadeq can be overthrown during this critical period except by violence or by the establishment of a semi-dictatorial regime under the aegis of the Shah. Such a course of action would involve risks which the Shah has thus far shown no willingness to take.


[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• Declassified by the CIA on January 23, 1986, with redacted portions pertaining to British military strategy. In August 2006, the CIA declassified the entire document. The previously censored text (highlighted) was also restored in the 2017 FRUS release.

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Iran, 1951–1954 (2017). Doc. #28 Special Estimate

• “Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79S01011A, Box 3, Folder 6, SE–6 Current Developments in Iran. Top Secret.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian





Intelligence Advisory Committee meeting | May 18th, 1951 Intelligence Advisory Committee meeting | May 18th, 1951
Action: Approved further revisions after reconsideration of the draft approved at the last meeting.”


20. Memorandum Prepared in the Office of National Estimates, Central Intelligence Agency

Washington, May 1, 1951.

MEMORANDUM OF INFORMATION NO. 67


FOR
     National Estimates Board

SUBJECT
     Iranian Developments

1. The elevation of Mohammad Mossadeq, the leader of the ultra-nationalist National Front Party, to the premiership constitutes a radical departure in Iran’s political development. Political activity in Iran has generally consisted in the struggle for power among a small group of men of the wealthy class whose major interest was to protect the vested interests of the group as a whole. The interplay of personal interests and rivalries and the personal likes and dislikes of the Shah were the determining factors in the selection of prime ministers.

2. Mossadeq has come to power by other means. Although he is a member of the traditional ruling minority, his influence among his peers is negligible, his personal following in the Majlis is small, and he is disliked and distrusted by the Shah. In spite of these factors, however, he has great political strength because of the general appeal of his constant demand that all foreign influence be eliminated from Iran. He has the support not only of his National Front Party but also of the Fadayan Islam, a small terrorist group of religious fanatics, the Tudeh Party (as long as Mossadeq’s chauvinism is directed against the Western Powers), and probably the great majority of Iran’s peasants, laborers, and tradesmen, who, though politically inert, can significantly affect political developments in Tehran through strikes, demonstrations, and violence.

3. Because of the intensity of Iranian chauvinism, few Iranian leaders dare to oppose Mossadeq publicly. It is for this reason that Mossadeq has exerted such a decisive influence over Iranian developments during the past year. He has blocked the negotiation of US loan and the conclusion of a revised AIOC agreement. He condoned the assassination of Razmara on the grounds that the latter was being too lenient with the British. Finally he pushed the oil nationalization oil bill through the Majlis, probably against the better judgment of most of the deputies, who, however, succumbed to patriotic fervor or feared the consequences (including assassination) of opposing the measure.

4. During the six weeks when Hussein Ala was Prime Minister, Mossadeq was chairman of the Majlis Oil Commission appointed to draw up recommendations for taking over the AIOC installations. The Shah, Ala, and moderate members of the Majlis probably hoped that some agreement could be patched up with the AIOC before Mossadeq could complete his work. Mossadeq, however, reported to Majlis more than a month ahead of schedule. Increased bitterness toward the UK resulting from the intervening strikes and violence in the oil field area kept emotions high throughout the country and simplified Mossadeq’s job in obtaining prompt Majlis approval for his recommendations. The new law sets up a government committee of twelve to take over oil installations and provides for setting aside 25 percent of oil revenues to meet future claims of the “former company.” The Majlis action resulted in the immediate resignation of Ala, and, on the recommendation of both the Majlis and the Senate, the Shah asked Mossadeq to form a new government.

5. Although the responsibilities of office may to some extent act as a sobering influence on Mossadeq, he will probably pursue the following objectives:

a. Full implementation of the nationalization law and effective Iranian Government control of the oil installations in southern Iran. It is possible that, if the UK accepted nationalization in principle, Mossadeq might be willing to conclude a management contract with AIOC, under which the latter would operate the oil installations under the direction of an Iranian Government agency. If the UK and AIOC refused to accept these terms, Mossadeq would probably take over the oil installations by force even at the risk of closing down the whole industry. In such an eventuality, he would probably try to obtain foreign technicians through individual contracts to restart production.

b. The elimination of other manifestations of foreign influence in Iran. It is extremely unlikely that Mossadeq would accept international loans from the Export-Import Bank or IBRD. He might even refuse to accept further US military aid and request the US Military Missions to leave the country.

6. In pursuit of these objectives, Mossadeq will probably adopt a lenient attitude toward manifestations of nationalist fervor, even if indulged in by members of the Tudeh Party. He has consistently opposed martial law and restrictions on speech, assembly, and the press. There is a danger that the Tudeh Party may attempt to take advantage of Mossadeq’s leniency in this respect to foment violence and disturbances throughout the country. Mossadeq may attempt to win Tudeh support (at least during the current oil crisis) by legalizing their status. In the long run, however, the National Front and Tudeh will almost certainly clash, for their fundamental aims are diametrically opposed.

7. The most significant aspect of Mossadeq’s advent to power is that the more moderate elements in Iran’s governing class appear to have lost control of the situation. Many deputies in the Majlis supported Mossadeq for Prime Minister in the hope that the oil crisis, for which he is largely responsible, would result in his own downfall. In view of his strong popular backing, however, he will not be easily displaced. If he obtains increased revenues from Iran’s oil resources, his position will be stronger than ever. If he fails to solve the oil crisis, he can place the blame entirely on the British and will lose little if any of his popular support. There are probably only two major developments, each of which would lead to critical situations, which could prevent him from achieving his objective:

a. UK occupation of the oil installations; and

b. the establishment under the aegis of the Shah of a semi-dictatorial regime willing to negotiate a new agreement with AIOC on the latter’s terms. The first alternative would probably result from the refusal of the AIOC, presumably backed by the UK Government, to negotiate on Mossadeq’s terms. The second alternative would result from the opposition of Iran’s vested interests, including the Shah, to the growing power of Mossadeq. The likelihood of either alternative occurring would be increased very greatly by widespread violence and demonstrations. The stability of Mossadeq’s regime will, therefore, depend to a large extent on his relations with the Tudeh Party.

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954 (2017). Doc #20: Memorandum Prepared in the Office of National Estimates, Central Intelligence Agency.

• “Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DDI Files, Job 79T00937A, Box 1, Folder 1, Staff Memoranda—1951. Secret. There is no drafting information on the memorandum.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian


Ayatollah Kashani’s Threat to Mossadegh | CIA, Sept. 1952
The assassination of Iranian Premier Ali Razmara — March 1951


Search MohammadMossadegh.com




Related links:

Estimate of the Political Strength of the Mosadeq Government | State Dept., May 4, 1951

The Current Crisis In Iran | CIA Special Estimate, March 16, 1951

Ambassador Henry Grady on Mossadegh’s Cabinet, Oil Committee Prospects (May 7, 1951)



MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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