U.S. Diplomat Henry Byroade on Iran
Oil Negotiations and Impressions of the Shah and Mossadegh

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project
| May 9, 2011       

Henry Byroade

Henry A. Byroade (1913-1993), a career diplomat, was U.S. Ambassador to six countries. In these excerpts from a 1988 interview, Byroade claims that negotiations over the Anglo-Iranian oil dispute were 80-90% complete when the Eisenhower administration took over for Truman, and all their work "went out the window". He also describes meeting with Premier Mohammad Mossadegh and dealings with the Shah, whose 1979 downfall took him completely by surprise.

A telegram Byroade sent to England from Cairo in 1956 (shown below), assessing the prospects of deposing Nasser, reveals the nakedly conspiring nature of the Anglo-American relationship.

Henry Byroade Career Overview:

1937-1947: U.S. Army Officer
1949-1952: Chief of German Affairs, State Department
1952-1955: Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs
1955-1956: Ambassador to Egypt
1956-1959: Ambassador to South Africa
1959-1962: Ambassador to Afghanistan
1963-1968: Ambassador to Burma
1969-1973: Ambassador to the Philippines
1973-1977: Ambassador to Pakistan
1977: Retires from foreign service
1993: Dies in Potomac, MD on December 31st at age 80.

Interview with Henry Byroade
Potomac, Maryland, September 21, 1988
Conducted by Niel M. Johnson [link]

Was this after Loy Henderson had left the State Department?

BYROADE: Loy was still there, but he was no longer in charge of Middle East Affairs. Loy had moved up to be head of administration for the State Department.

Had you ever consulted with him on this?

BYROADE: Oh, Loy Henderson was one of the best friends I had in the Department; we felt very similar about the Middle East. Of course, I got to know him even better when he was Ambassador to Iran during the Mossadegh time, when the oil problem was such a problem for us.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Was there any noticeable change between the Truman and the Eisenhower policies in regard to the Middle East?

BYROADE: Yes, there was. I was the only Truman appointee left in the State Department after they had cleaned house, so to speak. One reason I was glad to stay is that I thought we could have a more sensible policy on the Middle East, as far as the White House is concerned. Eisenhower, of course, knew more about the Middle East problem and its strategic significance and all that, which Truman really hadn't the background, when Israel was created in 1948, to fully appreciate.

In the first year, we made a lot of progress. I knew all the Arab leaders very well, and they would say, "Well, it's not fast enough, but the United States is getting around to be more of an honest guy in the Middle East." All this was, you know, really very encouraging.

It stayed that way really until the great blow-up on the Aswan Dam, which led to the Suez Crisis. We did move in, and [Secretary of State John] Foster Dulles told me later, it was the toughest decision he ever had to make. We did move in to try to stop the British and Israeli attack on Egypt, after Suez. Of course, I wasn't there anymore; I was Ambassador to Egypt [in 1954-56] but by that time I was in South Africa [as Ambassador]. Later on, it seemed to me our policy began to drift. But the first year under Eisenhower I thought we made a lot of progress.

Well, on this oil crisis in Iran, the nationalization of the oil and Mossadegh replacing the Shah, it is well-known that the CIA helped stage street demonstrations to get Mossadegh out and get the Shah [Mohammad Reza Pahlavi] back in. Did you feel that the situation there was kind of out of control, or did the Americans have any firm control on what was going on in Iran? I guess we're talking here about 1952.

BYROADE: Well, in a way, we had no control at all. The oil fields, of course, were under the British. Our concern was the supply of oil, and to try to keep a dangerous situation from flaring up. The Communist Tudeh party was rather strong in Iran. And, of course, Iran was right on the border of Russia. We wanted to do everything we could to dampen this threat as we saw it, so we worked very hard with the British in trying to find a solution of the Iranian oil problem. We had it, I would say, 80 to 90 percent worked out, when the Administration changed. Then we lost months, really, because when Eisenhower came in, he put Herbert Hoover, Jr. in charge of the Iranian oil problem. Herb, you know, was a good oil engineer and a nice fellow, but was rather a disaster in foreign affairs, in my opinion. He wouldn't even look at what we had done. All the work had done with the Justice Department through Dean Acheson, and so forth, went out the window. It started all over again, and as I say we lost six to nine months until they got back to trying to form a consortium like we almost had worked out under Acheson. Eventually, of course, it got solved. In the meantime, the Shah came back and you know the history.

Did you meet the Shah in this period?

BYROADE: Oh yes, I met the Shah many times in this period, and I met Mossadegh.

What was your impression of these two?

BYROADE: Well, Mossadegh—I only saw him once really.

Was that when he came over here?

BYROADE: No, in Tehran. I went there on this problem and I wanted to see Mossadegh, and he received me in his bedroom. He was in pajamas in bed. The interpreter got lost and my French wasn't good enough to talk to him in French, and we had a tough time for a while. I told him how good he looked, which he didn't like, because he was in bed. He didn't seem too sick to me, although he was rather feeble. And I got absolutely nowhere. I was trying to sell him on the proposition of leaving enough British technicians in there to make sure things worked, and the world gets access to the oil. He said, "Well, if you're a Moslem and you're against drinking alcohol, one drop is as bad as a gallon, so not even one Britisher can stay." I got absolutely nowhere.

In other words, you were willing to accept nationalization as a principle?

BYROADE: With compensation, providing there was continued access to the oil. It was a very complicated problem. We couldn't even get our own oil companies together on the problem because of our anti-trust laws. They couldn't meet together except in the presence of Dean Acheson or myself. Then we would go and try to sell the proposition to the Justice Department. What we were trying to do really is to set up a big cartel which is contrary to American domestic economic policies, but that's what we thought the foreign affairs of the United States required. So it was very cumbersome.

In other words, something like OPEC, but American style?


What were your impressions of the Shah?

BYROADE: The Shah was quite young when I first met him. I liked the Shah; I was impressed with the Shah. I saw him mature throughout the years. I watched him grow up. Among the last few times, I saw him one time on a very close basis. Prime Minister Ali Bhutto of Pakistan asked my wife and I to go with the Shah and Farah Diba down to his country home in Sind Province of Pakistan for a weekend. The Shah had become much more regal; I felt he might be getting a bit out of touch with his people. Yet, in some ways he was a joy. He was a very strong advocate of strength against Communists, which was a good thing. I was in Iran shortly before he fell; actually, I went on a skiing trip.

You're talking about '78 or '79?

BYROADE: Yes, probably '78. I wouldn't have guessed that Iran would go so quickly the way it went. I think that had I been American Ambassador there, I doubt if I would have sensed that we were that close to tragedy.

You didn't realize he was that unpopular with the masses?

BYROADE: No. Well, it's hard for a visitor. But, no, I didn't think so.

The Point Four program was going to Iran. Did you have much contact with the Point Four personnel, for instance with William Warne, who was head of the Point Four in Iran, in the early fifties?

BYROADE: On some of my trips, I'd go to Point Four headquarters. I remember going out to some projects, maybe one or two like a visitor does, but on a daily or weekly basis, no, I wasn't that close.

Well, there was a problem, of course, with the land tenure system. There were a lot of absentee landlords, huge estates with absentee landlords, and neglectful landlords, landlords who apparently took their rents and didn't do anything to help the tenants. There was a certain amount of resentment building up among the poor and even landless peasantry, and the Shah was supposed to do something about this, institute some land reforms.

BYROADE: He gave some of his own land away.

Did you ever feel that land reform, or that social economic reform was even close to adequate in Iran?

BYROADE: No. But you run into a very difficult problem, and I don't know the answer to it. Of course, I was no longer there. I was Ambassador to Pakistan. I didn't realize the feeling had grown to the point that it had, but even so, what has to happen before you walk into the Shah and say, "Look, you're not running Iran properly; you've got to do this differently and we'll tell you how to do it." That is not easily done, because we were in many ways dependent on the Shah. In the Middle East, we saw Turkey on the one hand, and Pakistan on the other, and each was fairly stable and with some strength, and Iran was in the middle. That was our picture of the Middle East; so Iran was very important to us. It was the soft underbelly of Russia.

Did you realize at the time the importance of the Mullahs, the local Mullahs, and their influence on the attitudes of the masses of Iranians?

BYROADE: Well, you've got to realize that I stopped being Assistant Secretary responsible for that area in 1956, and up to that time, no, I did not. I did not have any knowledge to be worried about the Mullah situation.

Telegram From the Embassy in Egypt to the Embassy in the United Kingdom
Cairo, August 1, 1956
[excerpted from State Department records]

Cabling from Cairo, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Henry Byroade informs the British that nationalization of the Suez Canal Company is far too popular to be quelled, and any rug-pulling schemes may backfire badly for Western interests in the long term. “While there are no forces here which it is not in our power to over-throw”, he cautions, “we would I fear in this day and age, live with the after effects for many years to come.”

In drafting this message, Mossadeq case is clearly in my mind. Nasser may by this act have finished himself in the end—but this is not necessarily so as the use of a vital facility has not been discontinued and believe implications clear enough to him that if left alone he will most carefully avoid violation international agreements. Point is however we could not with success move against Mossadeq at height of his prestige and I believe same applies here, with added factor that support for Nasser and Egypt will spread across much larger area than the relatively politically isolated state of Iran could muster. In considering countermoves hope it will be borne in mind that we believe that potentialities exist in this issue which could cause type of situation existing in Algeria to spread across to the Persian Gulf, with ill side effects down through South Asia.

Related links:

Interview with U.S. Diplomat Fraser Wilkins

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas on Mossadegh: "A great Persian hero..."

The Dulles Brothers: How To Wreak Havoc in Guatemala and Iran

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

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