The Shah’s Baghdad Sojourn
U.S. Ambassador: Despondent Shah Needs Our Advice
Smith: We May Have To “Snuggle Up” To Mossadegh

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project
| March 6, 2018                                                          


The Shah of Iran and Queen Soraya in Baghdad, Iraq | Aug. 16, 1953

On the morning of August 16th, 1953, just hours after the quelled coup attempt against Premier Mossadegh, the Shah of Iran, with Queen Soraya and two royal aides, boarded his twin engine private plane and piloted straight to Baghdad. Upon arrival, tired, bewildered and depressed, the Shah was desperate for U.S. advice and counsel, so he asked his Iraqi government hosts to arrange a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Burton Yost Berry (1901-1985). Their dramatic and historic encounter occurred at around 9:30 that evening.

Burton Y. Berry, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Early the next morning, Berry sent an urgent telegram to Under Secretary of State Walter Bedell Smith, giving the first account of the Shah’s mindset after the tumultuous situation he left behind. Although Berry’s cable was meant for former CIA Director Smith and the Tehran station only (most likely Kermit Roosevelt, Jr.) with “no distribution”, Smith forwarded it one day later to President Dwight D. Eisenhower with a short message attached, famously lamenting that “We now have to take a whole new look at the Iranian situation and probably have to snuggle up to Mosadeq if we’re going to save anything there.”

When Berry’s cable was released publicly in the 1989 FRUS volume, it was scrubbed of any reference to the U.S. role in the plot to remove Mossadegh. The more recent 2017 edition, however, restored these missing sections. (The differences have been highlighted for comparison below). Far more helpful, though, is a facsimile of the telegram obtained by GWU’s National Security Archive, posted in 2014, which also includes a routing sheet revealing that it was copied to other recipients, including officials like Frank Wisner and Henry Byroade, a total of 21 times.

Sometime the same day as Burton Berry’s cable, the CIA sent a response (#272, shown below) requested by the State Department clearly intended for Berry, although the actual recipient has been inexplicably censored in the most recent FRUS release from which it debuts. Yet at one point it instructs the recipient to “lend all possible support and assistance to Berry...”, which would seem to completely negate this suspicion. However, the same message, which was possibly written by Frank Wisner, refers to the Shah’s “statement to you yesterday” and his “statements summarized by you” — which could only mean Berry. It proceeds to offer a suggested public statement the Shah should make, based on Pahlavi’s own words and ideas as told to, and relayed by, Berry.

CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. The most likely explanation for this discrepancy is that the cable was sent to multiple recipients—Berry and a CIA agent. The CIA man was probably Kermit Roosevelt, but could have been someone like Donald Wilber or John Waller.

Another newly released CIA document, also from Aug. 17th, proposed that a message be promptly prepared for Burton Berry in Baghdad, and copied to Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. It then goes to describe in detail what this message should communicate, matching perfectly the substance of the aforementioned CIA cable — the one which conceals the name of its obvious recipient!

A footnote on the release states that this message to Berry “has not been found”. Yet isn’t it document #272? The two documents clearly fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It also seems obvious that #272 should come after #274, not before.

So it appears that the State Department Office of the Historian has filed certain documents in the wrong order, claims to have “not found” a document it has simultaneously published, and has unnecessarily censored the name of a telegram recipient even though a separate document exposes his identity.

All this might be easier to discern if there weren’t so many lines excised from the original memo. Or better yet, if we could examine the actual document itself and not rely on the State Department’s often questionable transcriptions. For example, in Berry’s Aug. 17th cable, he referred to the Shah’s “beachcraft” plane — this was corrected to Beechcraft without any mention of the change.

The Burton Berry cable gained somewhat of a new life in 1963 when former President Eisenhower released his memoirs. Three paragraphs of his Iran section were almost entirely paraphrased, and in one instance directly quoted, from Berry’s summary of the Shah’s statement to him:

Mandate For Change “Iran’s downhill course toward Communist-supported dictatorship was picking up momentum. For the Shah, the time had come to check that course. As he later told an observer, Mossadegh had become “absolutely mad and insanely jealous, like a tiger who springs upon any living thing that it sees moving about him.” Mossadegh, the Shah thought, believed that he could form an alliance with the Tudeh party and then outwit it; but in doing so, the Shah recognized, Dr. Mossadegh would become to Iran what the ill-fated Dr. Benes had been in Czechoslovakia—a leader whom the Communists, having gained power, would eventually destroy. The Shah, however, decided not to conduct a military coup; and instead do what the Constitution permitted him to do—appoint Mossadegh’s successor. He decide on a general named Fazlollah Zahedi.”


As for this latest revelation that the Shah was in contact with an “American friend” who had assured him that there was “no possibility of failure”, the identity of this individual was almost surely either Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. or U.S. Ambassador Loy Henderson. In his first memoir, Mission For My Country (1961), the Shah stated that he had made “contingency plans with the help of my American friends” — Roosevelt and Henderson. And in the final book he wrote before he died in exile, The Shah’s Story (1980) he recalled that he had decided to dismiss Mossadegh and appoint Zahedi “after I had discussed the matter with my friend Kermit Roosevelt, the C.I.A.’s special envoy”. That line syncs perfectly with the Berry cable which stated, “after consultation with an American, not (repeat not) an official of the State Department, [he] decided to appoint General Zahedi as Prime Minister in place of Mosadeq.”

That was about as close as the Shah would ever come to acknowledging the Anglo-American role in his ascent to absolute rule in 1953. “I suggested for his prestige in Iran [that] he never indicate that any foreigner had had a part in recent events”, cabled Berry on Aug. 17th. “He agreed.”



788.00/8–1753

271. Telegram From the Embassy in Iraq to the Department of State

Received: August 17, 1953, 7:14 a.m.

FROM: Baghdad

To: Secretary of State [sic—Under Secretary of State, Walter Bedell Smith]

NO: 92, August 17, 7 a.m.

PRIORITY

SENT DEPARTMENT PRIORITY 92, REPEATED INFORMATION TEHRAN 2.

92. FOR UNDER SECRETARY - NO (REPEAT NO) DISTRIBUTION

[The] Shah of Iran expressed to [the] Iraqi Government [a] desire to meet me. In order to provide [the State] Department with [a] first hand account of recent Iranian events as [the] Shah sees them, and recalling his basic pro-western attitude and [the] Department’s policy of supporting him, I called quietly at 9:30 last evening at [the] Iraqi official guest house where he is staying. I found [the] Shah worn from three sleepless nights, puzzled by [the] turn of events, but with no (repeat no) bitterness toward Americans who had urged and planned [the] action. I suggested for his prestige in Iran [that] he never indicate that any foreigner had had a part in recent events. He agreed.

[The] Shah stated that in recent weeks he had felt increasingly that he would have to take action against Mosadeq as the latter became bolder in flouting [the] Iranian Constitution. Therefore, when a fortnight ago it was suggested that he sponsor a military coup he accepted the idea. However, in giving it more thought he decided that such action as he took must be within the framework of his constitutional power, hence, not (repeat not) a coup. Thus, after consultation with an American, not (repeat not) an official of the State Department, [he] decided to appoint General Zahedi as Prime Minister in place of Mosadeq. After being assured that everything was arranged and that there was no (repeat no) possibility of failure, he left Tehran for his Caspian Palace in order to put Mosadeq off guard and from there three days ago sent [a] letter of appointment of General Zahedi [Fazlollah Zahedi] to Tehran with a trusted Iranian Colonel. The letter was delivered to General Zahedi and he was to choose the timing and method for informing Mosadeq. The Shah expected action would take place that very day. But no (repeat no) action took place, apparently because [the] message arrived too late in [the] day, and no (repeat no) action took place the following day, apparently because it was a holiday. On the third day Mosadeq by some means had been alerted and had had the time to take successful countermeasures so that when the Colonel arrived at Mosadeq’s house he was himself arrested. [Col. Nematollah Nassiri]

This morning the Shah left this Caspian Palace in a beachcraft [sic—Beechcraft] with a pilot, one Palace official and his Queen [Soraya] and landed in Baghdad at 10:15. [In his 1961 memoir, the Shah recalled that he had two aides in tow, not one] King Faisal returned from Jordan at 11:00. [18 year-old Faisal II] This afternoon, the Shah called upon King Faisal and King Faisal returned the call, offering hospitality, but lacking the supporting presence of his uncle who is in Cairo, seeming somewhat overpowered by events.

The Shah said that he will have to issue a statement very soon and possibly tomorrow. He needs, however, to be informed of the situation in Tehran and to have advice from his American friend. [probably Kermit Roosevelt, Jr.] He will try to hold off giving out a statement until he gets advice, but the pressure to issue is great and mounting. He is thinking of saying in his statement that three days ago he dismissed Prime Minister Mosadeq and appointed General Zahedi as Prime Minister, taking his action because Mosadeq had continually violated the constitution. As he himself had sworn, upon ascending the throne, to respect and uphold the constitution, he had no (repeat no) choice, but to remove the Prime Minister of a government acting unconstitutionally. When it was apparnt [sic—apparent] that his orders were not (repeat not) being followed, he left the country to prevent bloodshed and further damage. He is ready to return when he can serve the Iranian people and in the meantime prays for the independence and safety of Iran and that all true Iranians will never allow their country to fall under the control of the illegal Tudeh Party.

The Shah said that he is utterly at [a] loss to understand why the plan failed. Trusted Palace officials were completely sure of its succeeding. The American friend was absolutely confident of its success. When he had said to the American if it should fail what should he do, the American scouted the possibility of failure adding when pressed, that the Shah should go to Baghdad. The Shah said that is why he came to Baghdad when the plan miscarried. Now he needs information and advice upon his next move. He said that he thought that he should not (repeat not) stay here more than a few days, but would then go to Europe and he hoped eventually to America. He added he would be looking for work shortly as he has a large family and very small means outside of Iran. I tried to boost his morale by saying that I hoped that soon he would return to reign over his people for whom he has done so much, but he replied that Mosadeq is absolutely mad and insanely jealous, like a tiger who springs upon any living thing that it sees moving above him. [The] Shah believes Mosadeq thinks he can form a partnership with the Tudeh Party and then outwit it, but in so doing Mosadeq will become the Dr. Benes of Iran. [Edvard Beneš, former President of Czechoslovakia]

Berry
[Burton Y. Berry, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq]

SW:HMR/12


• Note: Bracketed text added for better readability. Parentheses in original. [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954, Volume X (1989). Doc. #345
• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Iran, 1951–1954 (2017). Doc. #271
• Source: The National Security Archive, posted July 2, 2014 [Link]

Both the 1989 and 2017 FRUS versions tampered with the original by correcting Berry’s misspellings. The version presented above is the only accurate transcription of the precise text of the telegram, including its typos and errors. The portions that were censored in the 1989 release have been highlighted.

• The pdf below indicates that it was declassified by the Central Intelligence Agency on April 20, 1999. If that date is accurate, then it apparently remained unreleased and unseen for may more years to come.

• “Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 788.00/8–1753. Top Secret; Security Information; Priority. Repeated to Tehran. Received at 7:14 a.m. This telegram is printed with redactions in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. X, Iran, 1951–1954, pp. 746–748 (Document 345).” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian





788.00/8–1853

No. 346

Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Smith) to the President

[Washington,] August 18, 1953.

TOP SECRET

General Walter Bedell Smith The attached message is self-explanatory and will give you the Iranian situation in a nutshell. The move failed because of three days of delay and vacillation by the Iranian generals concerned, during which time Mosadeq apparently found out all that was happening. Actually it was a counter-coup, as the Shah acted within his constitutional power in signing the firman replacing Mosadeq. The old boy wouldn’t accept this and arrested the messenger and everybody else involved that he could get his hands on. We now have to take a whole new look at the Iranian situation and probably have to snuggle up to Mosadeq if we’re going to save anything there. I daresay this means a little added difficulty with the British.

WBS
[Walter Bedell Smith]


• Note: Bracketed text added for better readability. [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

In the 1989 FRUS version, "counter-coup" is italicized thusly. The 2017 version italicized the entire word, counter-coup. Without a hard copy, it is impossible to know which transcription is correct.

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



274. Memorandum Prepared in the Directorate of Plans, Central Intelligence Agency

Washington, August 17, 1953.

Messages need to be sent to the following places and persons containing in each case the various points indicated:

a. A message via [less than 1 line not declassified] to Burton Berry in Baghdad providing State Department guidance to him along agreed lines [1½ lines not declassified]. This message should indicate that the Department considers that he handled [the] situation in [an] exemplary fashion under the circumstances and should make it clear that at least for the present, and in [the] absence of any satisfactory indications of possible success, the U.S. wishes to avoid assuming responsibility for urging statements upon the Shah beyond what he himself has indicated his disposition to be. This message might be from Whiting to Berry. [Harold S. Whiting, a pseudonym for Frank Wisner] We should indicate that State has seen the Arab News Agency report on the Shah’s statement which is considered helpful but deficient in many respects—e.g., it is not nearly as good or as full as his oral statements to Berry. Also, his statement of intention to take off for Europe in the near future is regarded as unfortunate.

b. [2 lines not declassified] The message to Berry will be [1½ lines not declassified] that Berry will handle any contact with the Shah. [“Not found”, according to the U.S. State Department Office of the Historian (2017). See doc. #272]

c. The substance of the message to Berry, including the text of the statement (to be drawn from Berry’s cable as indicated by underscoring), should be repeated to Roosevelt [CIA’s Kermit Roosevelt] together with the additional explanation that State has gone part of the way in the direction apparently desired by Roosevelt but has been unwilling to authorize Berry to press the Shah to make an appeal to the armed services of Iran to arise in support of him—as a matter of U.S. initiative. In this regard, the Department feels that, lacking more satisfactory indications than it has been able to draw from Roosevelt’s messages, that there is a real and significant possibility of decisive action in Iran, the Department does not wish to become associated with a reckless backing of a hopeless cause. The possibility of a more affirmative State Department position in this regard would depend upon Roosevelt’s ability to provide more satisfactory evidence of the possibility of significant resistance. (State is not sure whether Roosevelt’s language [is] intended to buck up [the] Shah or whether all of it is really meant at full strength.) Reference should also be made to IN 10764, [“Not found”] and Roosevelt should be advised that State has passed the word to VOA [Voice of America] and instructed its own press relations people to avoid any such terminology as “coup d’état,” “plot,” etc., and that while playing the story “straight” they should play up the fact that there is another version of the story supported by both Zahedi and now the Shah which indicates that if there was any coup d’état it was that of Mossadegh and not of Zahedi.

d. We have also to consider adding as part of one of the foregoing messages or making it the subject of a new message—[less than 1 line not declassified]—a reference to our OUT 81878 of 16 August which indicated that, while State had no policy objection to the British urging the Shah to make the statement suggested by Roosevelt, we were under admonitions to avoid any approach of our own to the Shah for this purpose. The point should be made that Mr. Berry’s action has at least partially overtaken that position of State and that Berry is being authorized to speak with the Shah in the sense of subparagraph a. above.

• Note: Bracketed text added for better readability. [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954 (2017)

• “Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DDO Files, Job 80–01701R, Box 3, Folder 10, TPAJAX. Secret; Eyes Only.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian



272. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency [text not declassified]
[recipients: definitely Burton Berry and probably Kermit Roosevelt, Jr.]

Washington, August 17, 1953.

DIR 16090. 1. [In] Reference [to] your priority message of 17 August. [The Office of the Historian says, apparently erroneously, “The reference is presumably to [text not declassified]”. See document #271.] In view [of the] extra sensitivity [of] this matter we have been requested by State to convey [1½ lines not declassified].

2. State considers your handling of [the] situation exemplary under [the] circumstances and requests that if in your judgment the situation permits you should contact [the] Shah again at [the] earliest opportunity and suggest to him that he issue [a] clear and definitive statement explaining his actions and ______ the ______ along [the] lines of his statement to you yesterday, viz: [namely/as follows] “In recent weeks Shah had felt increasingly that he would have to take action against Mossadeq as the latter became bolder in flouting the constitution. Therefore he decided to take action within the framework of his constitutional power ______ taken not in any sense a coup d’état. He decided to appoint Zahedi in place of Mossadeq. Three days ago he sent [a] letter of appointment to Zahedi to [the] capital city with a trusted emissary. The letter was delivered to Zahedi which empowered him to take office. When the messenger arrived at Mossadeq’s house to deliver [the] Shah’s communication he was arrested while trying to carry out [the] Shah’s order. [The] Shah took this action dismissing Mossadeq and appointing Zahedi in his place because Mossadeq had continually violated the constitution and because [the] Shah himself had sworn upon ascending the throne to respect and uphold the constitution, [the] Shah had no choice but to remove the head of a government acting unconstitutionally. When it became apparent that [the] Shah’s orders were not being followed he left the country but he stands ready to return when he can to serve the people and in the meantime prays for the independence and safety of the country and that all the patriots will never allow their country to fall under the control of the illegal identity E. Finally [the] Shah might usefully give public expression to his view that Mossadeq thinks that he can form a partnership with [the] Tudeh Party and then outwit it, but in so doing Mossadeq will become the Doctor Benes of the country.

3. For your information State has seen [an] Arab news agency report of [the] Shah’s statements which [are] considered helpful but deficient in many respects and inferior to [his] summary statements summarized by you. His statement [of] intention [to] move to Europe in [the] near future is unfortunate as [it is] revealing [of a] lack [of] seriousness of purpose.

4. For your further guidance State [is] unwilling in [the] absence of more hopeful indications as to [the] possible results to authorize you to press [the] Shah [to] issue an appeal to the army to rise. [The] Shah has not said anything on his own initiative [in] this regard and State does not wish [to] assume responsibility for urging upon [the] Shah [a] course of action which might well prove useless and even reckless.

5. For guidance [less than 1 line not declassified] you are not to take any action with respect to [the] Shah without specific authorization [from] HQS. [Headquarters] Please lend all possible support and assistance to Berry particularly with respect to prompt servicing [of] his communications. [This portion is probably addressed to a CIA man like Kermit Roosevelt]

6. [less than 1 line not declassified] pass paras [paragraphs] 1 thru 4 above to MI–6. [British MI6 aka the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)] [Probably still addressing Roosevelt]

7. Explanation [of the] genesis of [the] above follows immediately. [“Not found”, according to the U.S. State Department Office of the Historian (2017)]

End of message.

• Note: Bracketed text added for better readability. [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• The author of this cable may have been Frank Wisner, since it was suggested previously (Doc. #274 above) that he write it.

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954 (2017)

• “Source: Central Intelligence Agency. Secret. Transcribed specifically for the Foreign Relations series from microfilm in the Central Intelligence Agency that no longer exists. See “Sources” chapter. Omissions are in the transcribed text.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian



TEHE 712: Telegram from the Tehran Station, Central Intelligence Agency (Roosevelt?) to Burton Berry

Tehran, August 17, 1953

I urge you to send [a] strongly worded message [of] encouragement to the Shah of Iran who is now in Baghdad. According [to] my information he has [the] latent support [of the] majority of [the] Iranian population including its most eminent clerics, including, of course, Borujerdi. [Ayatollah Boroujerdi] However his presence [is] needed [in] Iran to successfully rally [the] populace against [the] tyranny of Mossadeq. In exercising his constitutional prerogatives of dismissing one Prime Minister and appointing another he has placed himself in [the] position [of] having [a] fight to [the] finish. Please have my personal assurances that he issued firman[s] for [the] dismissal of Mossadeq and appointment [of] Zahedi. It is my belief that a word from one so renowned as yourself will encourage [the] Shah [to] return to his country and carry on [the] struggle which [is] rapidly becoming [a] symbol [of] constitution vs. unconstitutional methods.

• Note: Bracketed text added for better readability. [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954 (2017)

• The above CIA cable is not an official document from the FRUS series, but it ought to be. It is apparently an excerpt, quoted in the last footnote to Document #272 (shown above), beside point #7, by the U.S. State Department Office of the Historian. The message was intended for Burton Y. Berry and though not indicated, the sender was probably Kermit Roosevelt, Jr.

•“In telegram TEHE 712, August 17, the Station in Tehran urged that the following request be sent to Ambassador Berry in Baghdad:”
“Transcribed specifically for the Foreign Relations series from microfilm in the Central Intelligence Agency that no longer exists. See “Sources” chapter.)” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian


ORIGINAL SIN: The 1953 Coup in Iran Clarified | by Arash Norouzi
ORIGINAL SIN: The 1953 Coup in Iran Clarified | by Arash Norouzi

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Related links:

CIA Drafts Official U.S. Statement To Follow Overthrow of Mossadegh In Iran

Praise God! Shah’s Decrees Obtained, Operation Ajax Is Ready | CIA, Aug. 14, 1953

The Shah’s Meeting With Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. | July 27, 1967



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