Shah’s Flight Leaves Uncertainty
After Failed Coup, U.S. Mulls Wait & See Approach

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | January 14, 2020                      

After the first attempt to overthrow Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh flopped, the United States scrambled to recover from the apparent setback.

This short memo from the Embassy in Iran surmised that Mossadegh would soon begin establishing a republic, and recommended that Ambassador Loy Henderson immediately return home and lie low in order to avoid any public comment on the events. Henderson, it must be noted, was a significant player in the coup plot, which succeeded three days later.

U.S. State Department Documents | IRAN

No. 268

Telegram From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1 [Gordon H. Mattison to State Dept.]

Tehran, August 16, 1953, 8 p.m.

348. Flight by [the] Shah and [the] uncertainty [of] Zahedi[’s] actions presumably leave Mosadeq [the] victor in [the] protracted and Persian-mannered campaign [to] eliminate [the] Shah as [a] political force in [the] country. [Fazlollah Zahedi] [The U.S.] Embassy considers [it] quite possible [that] Mosadeq may establish [a] regency to provide [a] needed interim before [the] eventual proclamation [of an] Iranian republic.

[We] Believe under [the] circumstances and pending Department decisions upon varied policy matters apparent as [the] result [of the] new situation that [the] Ambassador’s immediate return [would be] desirable. [Amb. Loy Henderson] However, as [the] situation may be still [be] fluid [we] suggest [the] Ambassador return prepared to continue [to] be unwell in order [to] avoid any official interviews if [the] situation warrants. [The] Attitude, statements and actions [of the] Mosadeq government in [the] next few days likewise will assist [the] Department in determining [the] lines to be followed.2


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

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

• “Gordon H. Mattison, 84, a retired Foreign Service officer, died Jan. 27 in Bethesda, Md. Mr. Mattison entered the Foreign Service in 1937 and was posted to Naples, Baghdad and Basra before being assigned to the Office of the Secretary. He studied Arabic at Princeton University and in Cairo, then served in Beirut and Damascus, then as chief of the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. During the 1950s, Mr. Mattison was deputy chief of mission in Cairo and Tehran, then served in Calcutta and Kathmandu. He was deputy coordinator of an interdepartmental seminar program when he retired in 1968, when he was presented a State Superior Honor Award.” — State Department obituary from 1999

1 “Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 788.00/8–1653. Secret. Repeated NIACT to London and to Beirut for Ambassador Henderson. Received at 1:09 p.m.” — State Department Office of the Historian

2 “Telegram 370 from Tehran, August 17, reported that Henderson arrived in Tehran that day at 6 p.m. (Ibid.).” — State Department Office of the Historian

LOST IN IRAQ: The Shah’s Baghdad Sojourn
LOST IN IRAQ: The Shah's Baghdad Sojourn | Aug. 16, 1953


Related links:

The CIA Scheme to Have the Shah Dismiss Mossadegh: August 16, 1953

Flight of Shah In Iran Strengthens Red’s Hand | INS, August 18, 1953

Assessment of the Iranian Situation | August 17, 1953 CIA Report

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

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