The Shah of Iran’s 1964 U.S. Visit

CIA: Shah operates “largely as a dictator”

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | April 27, 2023                    

The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, with U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Queen Farah Pahlavi visited the United States June 4-14, 1964. The Central Intelligence Agency was concerned about anti-Shah protesters, “particularly in California”.

The royal couple first arrived in Washington DC to open the lavish exhibit “7000 Years of Iranian Art”, which ran at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Gallery of Art June 7–July 19. Since he was going to be in town, it was also arranged that the Shah meet with President Lyndon B. Johnson (pictured above).

Crowds shouted epithets against the monarch on June 9th while he was in New York to accept an honorary degree at NYU, upsetting the Persian king and queen. Their other activities, such as attending the World’s Fair, went largely without incident.

When the Shah accepted an honorary degree and delivered the commencement address at UCLA on June 11th, about 75 protesters, largely non-Iranian, were waiting. Two audience members unfurled “The Shah is a Murderer” banners, while four or five other graduating students walked out while the monarch was receiving his letters. He was greatly perturbed when a plane flew above with a streamer referencing heroin addiction: “Need a fix? See the Shah”.

They returned from LA on June 12th. That evening, the Shah met with representatives of the Defense Department and State Department. “He appeared tired and somewhat melancholy”, said a U.S. report. “One had the impression that the demonstrations in Los Angeles had depressed him.”

U.S. State Department | IRAN 1951-1980
CIA Documents | IRAN 1951-1978

5. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Ball to President Johnson [George W. Ball to Lyndon B. Johnson]

Washington, January 29, 1964.

       Proposed Unofficial Visit by the Shah of Iran, May–June 1964

The exhibit, “7,000 Years of Iranian Art,” which had a highly successful tour of European capitals last year, is now scheduled for a tour of United States cities, beginning in the spring of 1964. The formal opening of the United States tour will take place at the National Gallery of Art in Washington some time between May 25 and June 6, 1964. We think that the value of this event as a landmark in United States-Iranian cultural relations would be greatly enhanced if the Shah of Iran were invited to open the exhibit. This visit might be combined with a trip to Los Angeles, since we have been informed that the University of California at Los Angeles is considering the possibility of awarding the Shah an honorary degree at the commencement exercises in June.

The Shah last visited the United States, in an official capacity, in April 1962. [April 11–14, under John F. Kennedy] An unofficial visit for the purposes mentioned above would be useful in demonstrating to him continuing United States interest in the welfare of his country and approval of his program of social reform.

If the proposed unofficial visit is made, we would recommend that you and Mrs. Johnson [First Lady Ladybird Johnson] host an informal luncheon for the Shah (and the Empress if she accompanies him) and that you also have a private informal talk with the Shah on the same occasion. If it should prove impossible to schedule these events, we would not advise the National Gallery of Art to invite the Shah to open the exhibit and we would discourage the University of California from awarding him an honorary degree.

George W. Ball
[Acting Secretary of State]

• “Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume XXII, Iran (1999) [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• “Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 IRAN. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Tiger; cleared by Jernegan and in draft by Chief of Greek, Turkish, Iranian, and Cyprus Programs in CU/NEA John T. Forbes, Assistant Chief of Protocol for Visits and Public Events Samuel L. King, Special Assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary for Political Affairs Windsor G. Hackler, and Special Assistant for Congressional Relations (Appropriations) to the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration William R. Little. A typed note on the source text indicates that the Department was informed of the President’s approval on February 1.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian

• “Printed from a copy that indicates Ball signed the original.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian

• Additional sources for our article: “Los Angeles Balks, Pickets As Iran’s Shah Is Honored” — The New York Times, June 12, 1964
Military Modernization Discussions with the Shah of Iran, State Dept. memo, June 12, 1964

29. Current Intelligence Memorandum

OCI No. 1582/64

Washington, May 30, 1964.

       The Visit of the Shah of Iran

1. The Shah of Iran is due to arrive in Washington on 4 June to open a “7,000 Years of Persian Art” exhibit at the National Gallery. [It opened June 7th] Although he is on an unofficial visit, he is scheduled to see the President, as well as other top officials. The Shah is also scheduled to receive honorary degrees from American University and from the University of California at Berkeley before he leaves the country about 13 June. He has visited the US on four previous occasions, unofficially in 1954–55 and 1958, and officially in 1949 and 1962. The principal problem anticipated during this trip is hostile demonstrations by Iranian students, particularly in California. Such demonstrations against the Iranian Government have been a perennial problem in this country, and a number of sizable ones occurred in Europe during the Shah’s visit to Austria and Italy last winter.

2. The Shah’s short title is His Imperial Majesty Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Now age 44, he is an intelligent and personable individual, fluent in English and French, with a taste for sports—tennis, riding, skiing, flying—and an interest in art and literature as well as in attractive women. He has been married three times: to the sister of ex-king Farouk (1939); [Fawzia Fuad] to the well-known Soraya, the daughter of a minor tribal chief and a German national (1951); and to the present Queen, Farah, who comes from an old Azerbaijan family (1959). [Soraya Esfandiari Bakhtiari, Farah Pahlavi] The long-desired heir, Prince Reza, was born in 1960. [Reza Pahlavi] The Shah has two daughters, one born last year and one by his first wife. [Shahnaz Pahlavi (born 1940), Farahnaz Pahlavi (born 1963)]

3. The Shah has been on the throne, ruling most of the time as well as reigning, since 1941, when his father was ousted by the Allies. The father was an army officer who seized the throne to found the Pahlavi dynasty. [Reza Shah Pahlavi] The Shah’s beginning and finishing education was military; in between he spent four years in schools in Switzerland. His interest in the army and in military affairs generally is thus a product of his educational background as well as of a preoccupation with Iran’s security problems.

4. The Shah’s family has not been among his assets. His father was disliked and feared, his twin sister leads an uninhibited personal life allegedly engaging in such doubtful business enterprises as opium smuggling and his half-brothers have generally been kept in obscurity. [Ashraf Pahlavi, Gholam Reza Pahlavi, Hamid Reza Pahlavi] The political philosophy of many of the Shah’s court intimates appears to be late eighteenth century Bourbon.

5. From this background, the Shah has emerged, particularly in the past ten years, as a sensitive, often moody, but nonetheless able proponent of the modernization of his country—under his direction. Since the overthrow of the Mossadeq regime in 1953 he has operated largely as a dictator, with a thin facade of parliamentary democratic procedures. [CIA-backed coup against Premier Mohammad Mossadegh] He has confronted, with some considerable skill, a situation in which a rising middle class has agitated restlessly for greater political power and accelerated economic and social change, while vested interests—landed aristocracy, obscurantist clergy, and tribal chieftains—have venomously opposed all attempts at reform.

6. The present phase of the Shah’s reform program began in earnest two years ago. Its main points are the redistribution of land, electoral reform including the enfranchisement of women, profit sharing among industrial workers, the nationalization of forests, the formation of a literacy corps, and provision for the compensation of expropriated landlords. Land reform is the key aspect of the program, and substantial progress has been made. There are indications, however, that the program will soon be temporarily slowed to allow the administrative apparatus—surveys, etc.—to catch up. The new cabinet, under Prime Minister Hasan Ali Mansur, is pledged to undertake administrative reforms to consolidate the achievements of the “white revolution.” [Hassan Ali Mansour] The hyper-skeptical Iranian public, however, is likely to view this development as an indication that the vested interests have gained a round.

7. The Shah’s opponents are able to unite only on the issue of his “dictatorial and unconstitutional” methods of governing. The principal opposition vehicle is a National Front, whose core comes from the upper and middle classes. However, the development of a unified opposition is handicapped not only by the disparity of views among its elements—which run from the Muslim mullahs to the Communist Tudeh Party, heavily infiltrated by the government’s security organs—but also by the basic appeal that the land reform program has made in an overwhelmingly peasant country. The opposition has been placed in the position of trying to oppose the Shah while avoiding opposition to a popular program with which he is personally identified. There are in fact some signs that younger members of the middle class, who are now taking up their “class positions” in the government bureaucracy, are rallying to the government, at least in the sense that they seem to be working diligently to make the Shah’s program a success.

8. This tendency is not evident, however, among the students in the U.S. who are likely to cause trouble during his visit. Iranian young people who study abroad are almost invariably from the upper class, particularly those in the US. Many oppose the Shah because of family memories of past cruelties committed by his father. Others are genuinely disturbed by the “dictatorship,” by the omnipresence of the security police, and probably by their own sense of frustration over the slowness with which Iranian society seems able to change. At the same time, there is evidence that many Iranian student leaders in Europe and in the US are supported in part with funds from Communist sources and/or have become ideologically attached to left-wing movements.

9. The Shah calls his foreign policy “positive nationalism.” Its basic pro-Western orientation is a reflection of his personal position rather than of any widespread popular sentiment. Many Iranian intellectuals in fact would prefer a neutralist position, and oppose Iran’s membership in CENTO and its 1959 mutual defense pact with the US. [Central Treaty Organization] Iran’s heavy dependence on US aid since World War II is currently undergoing a subtle change as the country’s oil revenues improve its financial position. The Shah nonetheless continues to complain that US military aid is insufficient; recent US-Iranian military exercises in southwestern Iran appear to have confirmed in the Shah’s mind the strategic importance of Iran to the West as well as reassured him of US support.

10. The Shah’s relations with the U.S.S.R. are diplomatically correct at the moment. Soviet propaganda against him has slackened since Moscow accepted his 1962 pledge not to allow foreign missile bases on Iranian territory. Soviet President Brezhnev visited Iran last year, and the U.S.S.R. extended a ten-year credit of $38.8 million to finance a project to harness the Aras River, which forms the Iranian-Soviet frontier in northwestern Iran. [Leonid Brezhnev]

• “Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume XXII, Iran (1999) [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• “Source: Central Intelligence Agency Files: Job 79–T00430A, Current Intelligence Memoranda, May 1964. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. Prepared in the Office of Current Intelligence.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian

41. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Iran [Dean Rusk to U.S. Embassy]

Washington, June 9, 1964, 5:57 p.m

918. Shah’s Visit. [The] Official, social and public aspects [of the] Washington portion [of the] Shah’s visit [were] highly successful. [The] Welcoming delegation [was] headed by [the] Secretary, Duke and Talbot; [the] farewell delegation [was] headed by Duke and Talbot. [Sec. of State Dean Rusk, Angier Biddle Duke, Chief of Protocol, Phillips Talbot, Assistant Sec. of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs] [The] Shah made [an] excellent impression at [the] Mellon dinner and also at [a] private dinner [at the] Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, where he answered off-the-record questions about world affairs and Iranian domestic problems in [a] frank and informed manner before [a] very distinguished group. Publicity [was] relatively small in volume, prevailingly favorable to [the] Shah, concentrated on cultural-educational aspects of [the] visit with hardly any speculation [on the] substantive content [at] official meetings.

Students, numbering 25–30, demonstrated quietly at Dulles, [Dulles Airport] [the] White House, American University, Sulgrave Club, and Mass Ave near [the] Embassy. [Iranian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue] Missed departure [at] National Airport because of last-minute change in locale from Andrews. In each case picketing was kept at [a] considerable distance, and [the] Shah’s party was routed in such ways that it [is] doubtful [that] he saw [the] pickets. Students held [a] press conference at [the] National Press Club, June 5, covered in [a] Post inside page, low-key story. [Washington Post]

There were several late additions to [the] schedule, as follows: meeting with State, AID and DOD reps June 6, [State Dept., Agency for International Development, Department of Defense] followed up by more detailed discussions [on] military modernization with DOD reps June 8 (Deptel 916); 2 private meeting June 8 with oil executives Page and Parkhurst, at [the] Shah’s request (memcon follows); [Howard W. Page, Vice President of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and George L. Parkhurst, Vice President of Standard Oil Company of California] “tea” June 8 with officials [from] Exim bank, IMF, IBRD, IFC; [Export–Import Bank of the United States, International Monetary Fund, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), International Finance Corporation] wreath laying [at] Kennedy grave [in] Arlington, [JFK memorial, Arlington National Cemetery] June 8; and [a] brief visit [to the] Washington Cathedral as [the] guest [of] Dean Sayre, June 8. [Francis Bowes Sayre Jr., Dean of the Washington National Cathedral] We have also heard that [the] Shah spent considerable time June 6 and 7 at [the Iran] Embassy holding levees for various categories of Iranian residents, including some students who sought, and in some cases received, passport renewals.

Aside from military modernization discussions (Deptel 916), [the] most significant addition to [the] schedule was Monday meeting with bankers, which [was] arranged hastily on Sunday, presumably at [the] initiative of [the] Shah. Attended by: Linder, Sauer, and Welk of EXIM; [Harold F. Linder, Walter C. Sauer] Knapp, Reed, and Khosropour of IBRD; Rosen of IFC; [Martin M. Rosen, International Finance Corporation] Southard and Gunter of IMF; [Frank A. Southard Jr., John W. Gunter] Foroughi and Amuzegar. [Mahmoud Foroughi, Jamshid Amouzegar] [The] Shah addressed this group on Iranian economic problems, [his] reform program, [and the] political outlook. [The] EXIM group was well impressed with his informed, balanced approach, particularly his grasp of economic affairs, and believes international org reps were similarly impressed. [The] Shah acknowledged Iran’s greatly improved economic prospects but stressed [the] need for continued foreign lending in [the] interim in order to support [an] adequate pace [of] economic development. He referred in appreciative terms to [the] new IBRD road loan and expressed hope for combined AID-EXIM lending for [the] electric power network. [It] Appears this session [was] initiated on [the] basis [of] advice and briefing from Samii and provided [a] most beneficial follow-up [of the] recent Samii mission. [Mohammad Mehdi Samii, Governor of the Central Bank of Iran]

Shah has accepted [an] invitation from Northrop to visit USAF [U.S. Air Force] base [in the] Los Angeles area June 10 for [an] operational demonstration [of the] F–5B. [supersonic fighter jet]

[Secretary of State Dean Rusk]

• “Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume XXII, Iran (1999) [Annotations by Arash Norouzi. Bracketed text added for better readability.]

• “Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 IRAN. Confidential. Drafted by Tiger; cleared by Billings and Deputy Chief of Protocol William J. Tonesk, and in substance by Sidney T. Telford of the Office of Security, Welk of the Export-Import Bank, and Colonel Taylor; and approved by Bracken.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian

University of California President Dr. Clark Kerr, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy

44. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Iran [Dean Rusk to U.S. Embassy]

Washington, June 16, 1964, 6:44 p.m.

931. Shah’s Visit. Following is [a] summary [of] security, publicity aspects [of the] New York, Los Angeles portions [of the] Shah’s visit:

At [his] New York stop [on] 9 June, 30 to 50 anti-Shah pickets, shouting loud and abusive protests, were allowed within 15 feet of [the] entrance to [the] East 78th Street premises where [the] NYU honorary degree [was] awarded. [The] Proximity [of the] pickets was [the] result [of an] admitted error [by the] New York police and [the] situation was corrected before [the] party’s return visit to New York [on] 12 to 14 June, when there were no serious disturbances at [the] Waldorf Astoria or World’s Fair. About 15 pickets were near the hotel. [The] Shah and Empress [were] upset by [the] 9 June episode and Foroughi cites it as [the] only really disturbing episode [in the] entire U.S. visit. [Iranian Ambassador Mahmoud Foroughi] N.Y. press treatment [was] not overly sensational and [the] prevailing tone [was] favorable to [the] Shah.

During [his] Los Angeles visit, pro-Shah demonstrators, evidently organized by official Iranians (Naficy and Kowsar) outnumbered anti-Shah demonstrators at [the] airport and Ambassador Hotel, were overly boisterous in their welcome, and engaged in some fisticuffs with anti-Shah demonstrators; at least one anti-Shah demonstrator [was] arrested but released on bail. [Diplomats Habib Naficy, Javad Kowsar]

[The] UCLA commencement ceremonies [on] 11 June proceeded with dignity in spite of major attempts to cause disturbances. There were about 75 anti-Shah demonstrators, of which [there were] only 12 Iranians, [the] remainder being “other nationalities” (no further information yet available). These were kept on [the] sidelines, some 150 yards away from [the] ceremony, and their shouts did not disturb [the] proceedings. When [the] Shah started to speak, 5 students walked out but were not able to create [a] disturbance. When some anti-Shah students attempted to unfurl [a] banner, two were removed bodily by [a] pro-Shah student group, which numbered about 50. During [the] ceremony, [a] hired airplane made two runs toward [the] area carrying [a] streamer reading: “Need a fix? See the Shah” (reference was to heroin addiction). [A] Los Angeles police helicopter, which [was] standing by in case [of a] serious riot, ascended and drove [the] plane from [the] area. [The] Shah [was] outraged by [the] reference [to] narcotics addiction but deeply impressed [by the] effective police action; at [the] 12 June departure ceremony, he asked to see [the] helicopter pilot and presented him with [a] gift. No info [is] yet available re [the] renters of [the] plane except they [are] said to be “students” and paid $250 for [the] rental.

Los Angeles press publicity, while predictably sensational (referring to [a] “dogfight” in [the] air over UCLA, stressing [the] Empress’s extravagant shopping sprees) [was] probably not, in sum, detrimental. [Farah Pahlavi]

On balance, it appears from [the] info presently available that [the] Shah, though upset with [the] New York picketing and [the] L.A. plane episode, does not hold [the] USG [U.S. Government] responsible or suspect these incidents [were the] result of any official policy [of the] protection [of] anti-Shah elements. This does not however preclude strong representations by GOI [Government of Iran] officials both here and in Tehran, and foregoing details are provided to help you deal with such approaches following [the] Shah’s return to Tehran [on] 17 June. We shall attempt to run down further specific details of anti-regime activity and investigate [the] possibilities of legal or administrative action.

[Secretary of State Dean Rusk]

• “Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume XXII, Iran (1999) [Annotations by Arash Norouzi. Bracketed text added for better readability.]

• “Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 IRAN. Confidential. Drafted by Tiger; cleared in draft by Chief of the Division of Protective Security Keith O. Lynch, Deputy Chief of Protocol Chester C. Carter, Joseph W. Reap (P), Donald A. Wehmeyer (L/NEA), and Deputy Administrator of the Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs Charles H. Mace; and approved by Bracken.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian

• See also these protest letters in advance of the Shah’s UCLA appearance:

Why the Shah of Iran Should Not Be Invited to UCLA — Open letter (undated), signed by Iranian Students Association of Southern California, Organization of Arab Students, United States National Student Association

Iranian Students Association of Southern California — May 8, 1964 open letter (untitled)


Related links:

The Shah’s Increasing Assurance | Secret CIA Memo, May 7, 1968

AP’s Parviz Raein: “SAVAK Tyranny” in Iran Threatens Shah (1972)

The Shah of Iran’s Current Outlook | CIA Memo, March 30, 1966

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

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