“Exhausting and Depressing”

Loy Henderson’s 2½ Hour Talk With Mossadegh

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | November 16, 2018                    

Ambassador Loy W. Henderson The U.S. Ambassador in Iran’s first meeting with Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh after the Premier’s return to power was tense to say the least.

Mossadegh had resigned July 16th, 1952 after the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, refused to give him control of the military. On July 21st, or 30 Tir, pro-Mossadegh, anti-Ghavam street uprisings erupted, and by the next day, he was back in the saddle.

Mossadegh accused America of supporting the interim Premier, Ahmad Ghavam, which Henderson strongly denied. It must be noted that this was a lie, directly contradicted by other internal State Department documents.

The palpable suspicion and bitterness throughout their discussion foreshadowed their final meeting during the immediate aftermath of the attempted August 1953 coup, of which Henderson was a major co-conspirator.

U.S. State Department Documents | IRAN

788.13/7–2852: Telegram

No. 189

The Ambassador in Iran (Henderson) to the Department of State [Loy W. Henderson to State Dept.]

TEHRAN, July 28, 1952—2 p.m.

NIACT [“night action, communications indicator requiring attention by the recipient at any hour of the day or night”]

422. 1. During [the] last two days I have received various hints, including one from [his] son, [Gholam Hossein] that Mosadeq was ready for me to call. Accordingly, I visited him yesterday evening. Our conversation, which lasted nearly two and half hours, was both exhausting and depressing. As I listened to him I could not but be discouraged at [the] thought that [this] person so lacking in stability and clearly dominated by emotions and prejudices should represent [the] only bulwark left between Iran and communism. As during several previous conversations, I had [the] feeling at times that I was talking with someone not quite sane and that therefore he should be humored rather than reasoned with. On occasions he resorted to such silly exaggerations and extravagances [that] it seemed almost useless to talk further. At one point I almost decided to abandon our conversation when he repeated again and again in monotone that “Iran would never, never want [the] UK and US to have any differences over it. Iran would prefer [to] go Communist than cause any trouble between [the] US and UK”. There were periods during our talk when he seemed lucid and sensible. [The] General impression which he left was however one of deterioration. I have noticed in [the] past that in [the] evenings he is likely to be more tired and to have less control over his emotions. I can only hope his behavior last evening was due to [the] strain of recent events and fatigue and does not indicate serious degeneration.

2. I shall not attempt to outline [our] conversation but will merely touch on those portions which seem to me to be more important and which may enable [the State] Department [to] have [a] better understanding [of] his present frame of mind.

3. He received me in [the] usual friendly manner. I began [the] substantive portion our conversation by saying that during recent days there had been circulated so many defamatory stories regarding US policies in Iran and [in] particular US relations with Qavam that it would be useless for me to try [to] deny all of them. [Ahmad Ghavam] I thought however it might be helpful if, in strictest confidence, I should describe to him briefly what [the] attitude [of the] US Government had been towards Qavam and let him understand [the] character [of] my personal relations with Qavam. I said I had seen Qavam twice before he became Prime Minister; once at dinner at [the] Turkish Embassy and on another occasion at dinner in [the] house [of a] mutual friend. During such talks as I had had with him he had not appealed to [the] US to support him either directly or indirectly. Although some [of] his friends had at times asked [the U.S.] Embassy [to] use its influence on his behalf I never had had any indication that Qavam was aware of these approaches to [the] Embassy. It seemed unnecessary for me to add that [the] Embassy, in pursuance [of] instructions from [the] US Government, had never directly or indirectly endeavored [to] support Qavam or [any] other Iranian as Prime Minister. Stories that Americans had by some sort [of] intrigue brought about [the] resignation [of] Mosadeq and [the] appointment [of] Qavam were so ridiculous that I failed [to] understand how intelligent Iranians, even in this emotional period, could [give] credit [to] them. These stories were being circulated either by people who had completely lost their ability to reason or by enemies of Iran who desired [to] undermine Iran’s independence by impairing relations between Iran and [the] US. I said [on the] day following [the] appointment [of] Qavam as Prime Minister [that] he had sent [a] message to me asking that [the] US give Iran financial aid to enable it to meet outstanding urgent indebtedness, including unpaid government wages and salaries. Qavam in this message asked me [to] see him on [the] following day, July 19. During [the] immediately ensuing conversation with Qavam he had told me that he hoped [to] achieve [an] oil settlement in [the] not distant future on [the] basis [of] which would result in [the] augmentation [of] Iran’s revenues and which would not in any way mean [the] sacrifice [of] Iran’s rights or sovereignty. Pending resumption [of] receipts from [the] oil industry Iran needed financial aid to tide it over [the] present financial crisis. I said I had told Qavam that I did not know whether [the] US had available funds which could be used for giving financial aid to Iran. If such funds [were] not available it would be extremely difficult to render aid for sometime as Congress [is] not in session. I had added that even if funds should be available [the] US in my opinion could render aid only in circumstances in which offense would not be given to public opinion of [the] US, UK and Iran. I had informed Qavam that he should understand that it would not be [in the] interest [of the] free world, including Iran, for differences between [the] UK and US arising from [the] extension [of] US financial aid [to] Iran to weaken [the] world security structure.

Weakening [of] this structure might encourage aggressive action on [the] part [of] international communism against countries which, like Iran, lay under its shadow. I had also told Qavam that [the] US could not undertake for [an] indefinite period to extend budgetary aid to any country and that such aid [of] this character as [the] US might be able [to] give Iran must be limited to several months until Iran could have [the] opportunity [to] set its house in order and balance its budget with [the] help [of] its own resources. Mosadeq asked if I had told Qavam that I would recommend US aid to him. I replied I had told Qavam that in view [of] his assurances that he would make every effort [to] effect [a] settlement in [the] dispute on [a] basis fair to both parties, and in view [of] Iran’s desperate financial situation, I was recommending that limited financial aid be given to Iran but that I had no idea what my government’s attitude regarding such aid would be.

4. Mosadeq thanked me for giving [the] above confidential information to him. He said he could draw several conclusions. [The] First conclusion was that [the] US had brought pressure on Qavam to bow to British demands and to permit [the] return [of] British rule to Iran. I replied [that] such [a] conclusion [was] entirely unjustified; [the] US had never suggested to anyone, including Qavam, that Iran take any step which would in the slightest degree weaken its independence or sovereignty. [The] US has always been of [the] opinion that Iran and Great Britain could come to [a] reasonable and fair solution [of the] oil problem without any sacrifice of Iran’s independence. Furthermore, I had not pressed Qavam to endeavor [to] come to [an] understanding with Great Britain regarding oil. I had merely informed him of [the] circumstances in which in my opinion [that the] US Government might be able to give financial aid to Iran. I had in [the] past, in informal conversations with Mosadeq, expressed myself to him similarly.

5. Mosadeq said [the] second conclusion which he had drawn was that although [the] US had shown [a] willingness [to] give aid to Qavam on [the] latter’s request, it had refused on several occasions to give aid to Mosadeq. [The] US therefore had showed [a] more friendly attitude to Qavam than it had [to] Mosadeq. I told [the] Prime Minister that [the] US Govt had not displayed more friendliness to Qavam than it would have shown to any other Prime Minister in similar circumstances. Without any instructions from Washington, on my own responsibility I had informed Qavam of what I thought [the] attitude of [my] government might be regarding [the] extension [of] financial aid to Iran if funds [were] available. I had also told Qavam that I was of [the] opinion from statements made by him that he was planning [to] take steps which might result in rendering [an] extension of US aid to Iran acceptable to public opinion [of the] US, Iran and UK. I was therefore recommending that if possible such aid be extended on [a] temporary basis. On various occasions I had made it clear to Mosadeq that I [was] personally prepared [to] recommend that [the] US Govt extend to Iran aid on financial basis, provided his government could follow policies which would make it possible for such aid to be given without offending public opinion [of the] US, UK and Iran. I was still prepared [to] make such recommendations to my government, provided I had reason [to] believe [that] Mosadeq intended [to] pursue policies [of] this character.

6. Mosadeq said [the] third conclusion he would draw from what I had told him was that [the] US had given encouragement to Qavam by showing friendliness to him. I replied that during [the] time I talked with Qavam he was Prime Minister. As Ambassador to Iran of [a] country friendly to Iran it was my duty [to] establish friendly relations with [the] Prime Minister who showed [the] desire to have such relations. If [the] performance [of] such [a] duty was [to] be considered as improperly encouraging to Qavam, then those opponents of Mosadeq who in [the] past had severely criticized me for maintaining friendly relations with Mosadeq, had some justification for their criticism. So long as I was Ambassador to Iran I intended [to] continue [to] maintain as friendly relations with [the] Iranian Government in power as may be desired by that government.

7. Mosadeq launched into [a] bitter attack upon US foreign policy. He said [that the] US had no diplomacy. [The] US in [the] Mid-East was merely [an] agent [of the] British. Manifestations of anti-Americans [anti-Americanism] as witnessed during recent days had shown how great had been [the] failure [of] so-called US diplomacy in Iran. [The] US had given [a] billion dollars [in] aid to Turkey and yet when Iran was bankrupt and on [the] verge [of] communism, it had refused financial assistance first because it feared that if Iran should be able [to] operate its own oil industry US oil interests in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere might suffer and, secondly, because it was afraid of British displeasure. I told Mosadeq that American interests in international oil were really of [a] secondary nature and did not govern our policies regarding Iran.

Mosadeq said [that] even certain Britons were charging that [the] US, because of [its] fear of [the] effect of US oil concessions in other countries, did not wish [the] British to compromise in [their] oil dispute with Iran. I again emphasized that [the] effects of [a] possible settlement on US oil concessions in various parts [of the] world did not play [a] major role in our policies regarding Iran. I added that in any event it did not seem likely that countries in which there were American oil concessions would be tempted follow Iran’s example. I had already on various occasions tried to make clear to him [that] it would not be in [the] interest [of the] free world for us to give Iran financial aid in circumstances which might cause British and American public opinion to believe that [the] US was subsidizing Iran’s position regarding [the] oil dispute. At this point Mosadeq began to chant that Iran would prefer to go Communist than for [the] US and UN [sic—UK] to have differences of opinion with regard to it. Eventually, I was able to tell him that [the] US choice was not merely between US–UK friction and Iran going Communist. I stressed that if serious misunderstandings should develop in [the] present world situation between [the] US and UK, Iran would go Communist anyway.

8. Mosadeq resumed his ridicule of American diplomacy. He said that [the] decision [of the] American judge in [the] Hague, which had given great impetus to anti-American feelings [in] Iran, was [a] good example. I said that [the] US did not consider that [the] American judge in [the] International Court was [a] diplomat or that any judgment he might render was of diplomatic character. I was aware it [was] quite useless to [try to] convince him that American judges were not influenced by [the] executive branch [of] government. I doubted that anyone not educated in America could understand [the] depth [of] American feeling regarding [the] independence of [the] judiciary. I had heard that Mosadeq himself was anxious [to] separate [the] Iranian judiciary from [the] executive branch [of] government. If he should succeed, Iranians might in years to come be able [to] believe [that] American judges did not receive instructions from [the] US Government. I said I would appreciate it if Mosadeq would tell me precisely what he thought American diplomacy should do in Iran. Mosadeq again reverted to [the] fact that [the] US had given Iran no financial aid in its time of need.

9. Mosadeq placed great stress on [the] Communist danger facing Iran. He said [that the] Iranian army was no longer [a] stabilizing factor. It was now hated by all Iranians. [The] Iranian army, under [the] orders [of] Qavam, who was [a] British agent, had fired on and killed hundreds [of] Iranians. Iranian people, therefore, considered [the] army as [a] tool [of the] British. I asked Mosadeq if he, as Minister of War, would not be able by certain measures [to] restore [the] prestige [of the] army. He insisted [it was] too late. Nothing could save [the] army now. In fact, [the] army was now [a] danger to [the] country since many officers and men, humiliated at their present unpopularity, might at any moment try to get back into public favor by taking leadership in [a] revolt of Communist character. This revolt might not be fomented gradually. It might break out at any moment.

10. I asked Mosadeq if there was anything he could tell me regarding future military aid and military missions. Various kinds [of] rumors were afloat regarding his attitude on these subjects. He replied he [was] not prepared to talk to me at present. He would take [the] matter up later. Any recommendations which might be circulated had no basis. He had not discussed his intention regarding military missions and aid with anyone. I said Gen. Zimmerman had always maintained friendly relations with [the] Minister of War. [Major General Wayne C. Zimmerman] Now that Mosadeq had [the] war portfolio I assumed it would be appropriate for Gen. Zimmerman to call on him. He said he would always be glad [to] receive Gen. Zimmerman “so long as [the] military mission was here”. It was not clear to me whether he intended that this phrase have special significance.

11. Reverting to [the] oil problem. Mosadeq described briefly [the] suggestion which he had made to Middleton. [British Charge de’Affaires George Middleton] He made no request of me and I stated that I was glad that direct conversation on [the] subject had been opened with [the] British.

12. As I was preparing [to] depart, Mosadeq said he hoped I would not take amiss [the] frankness [of] his comments to me. It had been his practice to talk on [a] personal basis rather than that of [a] Prime Minister addressing [an] Ambassador. He believed his country and government were in great danger and he could not understand why [the] US, which was supposed to be so friendly to Iran should not show friendship by action. I told Mosadeq that [the] US was in many ways trying to help Iran. He laughed and said if we were really trying [to] assist by [anything] other than words, we were certainly succeeding in hiding our helpful activities.


• Bracketed text added and abbreviations removed for better readability. [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

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

The U.S. State Department Office of the Historian notes that the document was: “Transmitted in three sections; repeated to London.” It is not specified if this refers to the U.S. Embassy in England or to the British Foreign Office.

Search MohammadMossadegh.com

Related links:

Amb. Loy Henderson Ponders Interfering in Iran Elections | Jan. 18, 1954

Ahmad Ghavam Seeks U.S. Support To Help Him Replace Mossadegh As Premier (1952)

Loy Henderson’s Post-Inaugural Meeting With Dr. Mossadegh | Jan. 28, 1953

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

Facebook  Twitter  YouTube  Tumblr   Instagram