Ardeshir Zahedi, Debonair Liar

The CIA and Iran: What Really Happened (2000)

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | August 2, 2023                    

“Anyone who had studied the history of the turbulent years would also know that Mussadeq was the most pro-American senior politician Iran had produced.” — Zahedi

Ardeshir Zahedi (1928-2021), Iran's Foreign Minister and U.S. Ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi (1928-2021)

The Shah’s most loyal servant, Iranian Foreign Minister and U.S. Ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi (1928-2021), was both a witness and a participant in the events of August 1953 which replaced Premier Mohammad Mossadegh with his father, Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi.

He insisted all his life, however, that there was no foreign dimension to the coup, that it was merely a popular uprising against a bumbling, dictatorial leader. The CIA, he claimed, was merely bragging about their role, and besides, the British disliked his Dad, and Mossadegh was the “darling” of the U.S., so why would they want to oust him?

In fact, Zahedi is the sole purveyor of perhaps the mother of all humdingers regarding the 1953 coup. Zahedi claimed that Pres. Eisenhower had Amb. “Roy” (he means Loy) Henderson offer Mossadegh a $10 million loan. The date of this alleged overture? August 18th, one day prior to Mossadegh’s fall.

There is no truth nor logic to this yarn. Eisenhower had just publicly balked Mossadegh’s urgent plea for a U.S. loan, and was a most enthusiastic patron of the new Shah-Zahedi regime, whom he gifted with a $45 million payout soon after the coup.

Unfortunately for historians, Zahedi’s lack of integrity knew no bounds. He may have been an insider, but he could not be trusted on anything, no matter how trivial.

In April 2000, The New York Times ran a special front page report “SECRETS OF HISTORY: The C.I.A. in Iran”, based largely upon the acquisition of a leaked 1954 CIA document by one of the coup’s main architects, Donald N. Wilber. Rankled, the Shah’s widow Farah Pahlavi wrote a letter to the editor, published April 28th, in dispute.

Zahedi, too, wrote a letter in response. And this letter, he said specifically, was published in The New York Times on May 22, 2000. He proudly included “the exact text” of the entire letter in Vol. 1 of his memoirs, and featured a PDF of it on his official web site.

Zahedi’s claim, however, doesn’t pass the plausibility test, due both to its great length, and the absolutely atrocious spelling and grammar. There’s simply no way that The New York Times would have run it in that form.

But we don’t have to take the word of Ardeshir Zahedi, who could not even manage to spell his own father’s name correctly. A simple online search proves that the Times never published a word of his self-refuting screed.

The New York Times
May 22, 2000
[This was NOT published by the NYT]

By Ardeshir Zahedi


On 16 April 2000, the New York Times published a story on what was presented as a “secret report” by a CIA operative concerning the events of August 1953 in Iran. The following article is written in the interest of historical truth and attempts to put those fateful events in Iran into prospect [sic] perspective.

At this time when the future of relations between Iran and the United States is, once again, debated in public, it is Important [sic] both sides steer clear of myths that have fostered so much misunderstanding between them.

One such myth has been woven around the claim by a few CIA operatives that they hatched a plot to get rid of Prime Minister Dr. Muhammad Mussadeq [sic—Mohammad Mossadegh] in August 1953 and (propelled my father, the later General Fazollah Zahedi into power with the Shah’s blessings.) [sic—Fazlollah Zahedi] That claim, first made m [sic] the early 1960’s and never corroborated by and [sic] hard evidence, has over the years found a niche in the historical folklore of both nations[.] In a recent feature the New York Times gave the claim fresh publicity, relaunching the debate over what actually happened in Iran in those remote days of the Cold War.

[The claim actually debuted in 1953. The CIA authorized The Saturday Evening Post to divulge their role in the coup in 1954.]

Victory, of course, has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan[.] Had the August 1953 efforts to remove Mussadeq from office failed, there would have been no CIA claiming the credit. [The subject here is an internal CIA report from 1954, not some agency PR campaign.]

There is a mass of evidence, including US and Iranian official documents and testimonies by people who played a role m [sic] the events that give the lie to the CIA operatives’ chum. [sic—claim] Briefly, what happened in August 1953 was as follows: the Iranian political establishment was divided between supporters and opponents of Mussadeq. Mussadeq’s opponents looked to the Shah for a rallying poin. [sic—point] My father who had served as Interior Minister in Mussadeq’s Cabinet has [sic—had] broken with him and established himself as the leader of the anti-Mussadeq faction.

The Shah was thus under pressure from many powerful circles and personalities inside Iran to dismiss Mussadeq and name my father as the new prime minister. Mussadeq recognized my father as his chief adversary at the time and did all he could to break him.

Mussadeq had been abandoned by many of his former colleagues, among them such personalities as Hussein Makkin [sic—Hossein Makki] and Muzzafar Baqru, [sic—Mozaffar Baghai] and opposed by parties that had provided the backbone of his support in 1951.

The most prominent members of the Shiite clerical establishment, including the Ayatollahs Borujerdi, Hakim, Shahresetani and Kashani were solidly opposed to Mussadeq and wanted the Shah to remove him. They were all in contact with my father and supported him in their struggle against Mussadeq[.]

A leading member of the Majlis (parliament) Hassan Haeri-Zadeh, who had been one ofMussadeq’s [sic] strongest supporters until then, even cabled the United nations secretary general to appeal for help against Mussadeq’s increasingly despotic rule[.]

The Shah had already clashed with Mussadeq’s [sic] in 1952 and forced the <doctor> to resign as prime minister. At that time, however, the politics of street had turned against the Shah and he had been obliged to reinstate Mussadeq. In August 1953 the tide had turned against Mussadeq who had further undermined his own position by disbanding the parliament elected under his own stewardship.

The rest is history, as the saying goes. Or is it?

It is quite possible that the CIA and its British counterpart were engaged in the usual dirty tricks campaign in Tehran. Tehran had become one of the hottest theaters of the Cold War with the Soviet Union enjoying a strong presence through a mass Communist Party (the Tudeh), several front organizations and at least four daily newspapers[.]

The Communists had also infiltrated the armed forces and the police, recruiting over 700 officers and NCOs. [non-commissioned officers]

What is certain is that Mussadeq’s fall was not due to any dirty tricks that the CIA might have played. Nor did the CIA have the kind of access its operatives claim to have had to the key figures of the revolt against Mussadeq including my father[.] The only time my father visited the US embassy in Tehran was a function m [sic] honor of Averell Harriman on 4th of July 1951, and in his capacity as interior minister. Harriman had come to Tehran with a mission from President Harry Truman to persuade Mussadeq to find a way out of the crisis over the nationalization of Iranian oil. (Cf. Vernon Walters in <Silent Missions>). My father never had any meetings with any CIA agents. [He was literally kept in a CIA safe house] One operative has claimed that he spoke to my father in German, ostensibly during secret meetings. The fact is that the only foreign languages my father ever spoke was Russian and Turkish, not German or English[.]

Iranian history remembers my father as a true patriot who wore the wound he had won in battle like so many badges of honor. Fazollah Zahedi [sic] had fought for virtually every inch of what he regarded as the sacred land of Iran, against a Bolshevik-sponsored regime along the Caspian coast to a British sponsored secessionist movement in the oil rich province of Khuzestan. During the Second World War had become a war prisoner of the British and sent into captivity and exile in Palestine, then under British mandate. Fazollah Zahedi [sic] was always big enough to fight his own fights, backed by his own loyal friends.

To try and portray such a giant of Iran’s contemporary history into a bit player in a scenario fit for <Missionn Impossible> [sic] requires a degree of cynicism that only frustrated egomaniacs might master.

Throughout the dramatic events that led to the fall of Mussadeq, I was at my father’s side as one of his principal political aides> [sic] Had he been involved in any foreign intrigue I would have known, he was not.

Roy Henderson, [sic—Loy Henderson] the US ambassador to Tehran at the time, makes it abundantly clear in his dispatches to the State Department that Mussadeq was overthrown by a popular uprising which started from the poorest districts of the Iranian capital. Henderson’s reports have been published in a book of more than 100 pages, translated into Persian and published in Iran.

[Loy Henderson, as the Wilber report reveals, was a key player in the coup plot, though he always denied even knowledge of it. Ardeshir calls him “Roy” throughout his memoir, too.]

The Iranian public, therefore, has a more balanced view of the events than its American counterpart which is fed recycled claims by former CIA operatives. British and Soviet accounts at the time also make it clear that Mussadeq had fallen victim to his own hubris which antagonized his allies and forced the Iranian people into revolt.

More than 100 books, by Iranian and American scholars, give the lie to the CIA operatives self congratulatory [sic] account.

Barry Rubin writes “It cannot be said that the United States overthrew Mussadeq and replaced him with the Shah... Overthrowing Mussadeq was like pushing an open door”. [Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran (1980)]

Gary Sick writes “The belief that the United States had single-handedly imposed a harsh tyrant on a reluctant populace became one of the central myths of the relationship, particularly as viewed from Iran.” [All Fall Down: America’s Tragic Encounter with Iran (1985)]

Amir Taheri writes “What happened was not a successful conclusion of a (CIA) conspiracy but a genuine uprising provoked by economic hardship, political fear and religious prejudice.?[”]

Richard Helms, long time CIA director, told a BBC television program that “the agency did not counter rumors of in [sic] Iran because the Iranian episode looked like a success. At the time, of course, agency needed some success, especially to counter fiascos as the Bay of Pigs.[”]

[Cannot corroborate this quote, but the Bay of Pigs invasion was in 1961, the CIA had already revealed its coups in Iran and Guatemala in 1954. Furthermore, Richard Helms and his colleagues were briefed on the successful coup in Iran on August 28, 1953 by none other than Donald Wilber and Kermit Roosevelt, Jr.! (They also covered the active participation of “Young Zahedi”). Besides, Helms confirms the efficacy of Operation Ajax in his 2004 memoir "A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency".]

Even Donald Wilber, the CIA operative whose “secret report” has been given top billing by the New York Times makes it clear that whatever he and his CIA colleagues were up to in Tehran at the time simply failed.

[Ardeshir is referring to the section titled “APPARENT FAILURE”, in which his own name comes up repeatedly. The conclusion was that it succeeded — and CIA Director Allen Dulles heartily agreed.]

Wilbert [sic] writes: [“]headquarters spent a day featured by depression and despair...[”] The message sent to Tehran on the night of August 18 said that the operation has been tried and failed and that contrary operations against Mussadeq should be discontinued. [paraphrased with two direct lines not put in quotes]

Mussadeq was overthrown on 19 August when hundreds of thousands to [sic] Tehranis poured into the streets to demand his departure and the return of the Shah. [The mobs numbered several thousand] This was not a military “coup d’etat” since there was no change in the constitution or any of the structures of the Iranian state. Nor was the Shah’s position as head of state affected. Under the constitution of 1906 the Shah had the power to name and dismiss prime ministers. He simply exercised that power by dismissing Mussadeq and nominating Zahedi in a perfectly legal and constitutional manner... Mussadeq tried to resist his dismissal but was swept by the masses. [The decrees were fomented by the CIA]

The army played a supportive role in the anti-Mussadeq uprising and even then only after the people had taken the initiative. At the time my father was no longer on active service, having retired from the armed forces and engaged in political activities as a senator and leader of the anti-Mussadeq coalition. Mussadeq himself held the portfolio of Defense and enjoyed the support of many key officers of the armed forces, including the Chief of Staff appointed by himself.

Anyone who had studied the history of the turbulent years would also know that Mussadeq was the most pro-American senior politician Iran had produced. He was the darling of the Truman Administration which raised the amount of aid to Iran, distributed through Point IV, from half a million dollars to 23 million dollars. On August 18, 1953, a day before Mussadeq fell, Henderson met Mussadeq and offered him an emergency loan of 10 million dollars on behalf of the Eisenhower Administration.

[Both Truman and Eisenhower turned down Mossadegh’s urgent requests for a loan. The $10 million line is a complete fabrication by Ardeshir alone, and simply preposterous!]

Mussadeq himself never blamed the Americans for his downfall. He was intelligent enough to know why his political career led into an impasse.

[A moot point even if true, as Mossadegh did not live to read documents such as the Wilber report. Nevertheless, it’s false. Mossadegh directly blamed the Eisenhower administration for his downfall in his memoir.]

The anti-Mossadegh coalition did, of course, look to the United States, as the leader of the Free World, to counter any more than the Soviets might have, made at the time to intervene in what was a domestic Iranian power struggle. From a geo-strategic point of view, therefore the anti-Mussadeq coalition regarded itself as part of the Free World. But does that mean that all those who fought Communism and upheld the cause of liberty throughout the Cold War were manipulated by the CIA? Three years ago the CIA announced that almost all of its documents pertaining to the August 1953 events in Iran had been destroyed in a fire. Was someone trying to cover up the CIA’s most dramatic “success story”? Or did the documents burn because they should that the feel good ambiance created by the Iranian myth that had been fabricated by a few individuals with a lot of imagination and very little of scruples? [Closes with his own conspiracy theory!]

Ardeshir Zahedi
Villa Le Roses
1820 Veytaux-Montreux

[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• Sources:, Memoirs of Ardeshir Zahedi, Volume One: From Childhood to the End of My Father's Premiership (1928-1954) (2012)


Related links:

Norman Darbyshire’s Explosive Interview on 1953 Coup in Iran

“Strategic Reasons”: Madeleine Albright’s Mea Culpa (No Apology) For 1953 Coup In Iran

Causes and Circumstances of Mossadeq’s Downfall | CIA, Oct. 1953

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

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