On June 15th, the State Department released a long-awaited “retrospective” volume of declassified U.S. government documents on the 1953 coup in Iran. The volume includes fascinating details on Iranian, American and British planning and implementation of the covert operation, as well as information about U.S. contacts with key figures such as Ayatollah Abol-Ghasem Kashani, and insights into U.S. concerns about the growing influence of communist Tudeh Party. This Foreign Relations volume focuses on the use of covert operations by the Truman and Eisenhower administrations as an adjunct to their respective policies toward Iran, culminating in the overthrow of the Mosadeq government in August 1953. Moreover, the volume documents the involvement of the U.S. intelligence community in the policy formulation process and places it within the broader Cold War context. [nsarchive.gwu.edu]
We continue to monitor closely the sequence of preparations by the CIA shortly before the 1953 coup.
Another memorandum coming from the British National Archives, shows that the Anglo-American axis was anxious to find suitable candidates to overthrow the democratically elected Iranian PM, Mohammad Mosaddegh.
Mullah Abol Qasem Kashani is described as his nearest political rival, but it seems that it was considered 'unsuitable' for the Western interests. The memorandum under the title “IRAN: POTENTIAL CHARACTER OF A KASHANI-DOMINATED GOVERNMENT”, begins with the sentence “The displacement of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosadeq of Iran by his nearest political rival, Mullah Abol Qasem Kashani, would be disadvantageous to Western interests.”
- ... whereas Mosadeq, despite his passionate nationalism, has an underlying respect for certain aspects of Western liberalism, Kashani views contemporary problems from a narrowly Moslem outlook, severely warped by many years of bitter conflict with British authority.
- Should Mosadeq retire or die, however, Kashani would be the leading contender for his mantle, since he has the largest bloc of votes (after Mosadeq) in the Majlis and controls the largest potential force, except for Tudeh, for public demonstrations and physical intimidation of his opposition. Power to choose the Prime Minister resides in the Majlis, and it is very unlikely that the Shah would risk another “Qavam incident” by appointing as Prime Minister anyone who did not have controlling Majlis support.
- Should he [Kashani] gain power his tenure might well be short, especially if his resort to violent methods should result in his own assassination.
- Kashani’s support derives from two factors: (1) political and religious emotion, and (2) material self-interest. Since World War I, when his father lost his life allegedly as a result of British action in Iraq and when Kashani participated in the declaration of Jihad (Holy War) against the Allies, he has been in frequent bitter clashes with British authority. During World War II he was interned by the British Army. This record of suffering at British hands has made Kashani a popular hero—a veteran in the fight against “imperialism” imposed by nations not only foreign, but Christian.
- Kashani did not lead the move to oust the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, but once it was underway he made tremendous personal capital out of it.
- Aside from Mosadeq, the only other National Front leader whose prestige approaches that of Kashani is Allahyar Saleh, currently Iranian Ambassador to the US.
- Kashani’s present tactics against Mosadeq seem designed more to embarrass the Prime Minister and “cut him down to size” than to strengthen the Shah or bring about Mosadeq’s replacement as Prime Minister.
- Kashani has strongly supported the following basic National Front policies: (1) nationalization of the oil industry; (2) elimination of British influence in Iran; and (3) replacement of the political power of the traditional governing groups by that of the “people” expressed through a “truly national” Majlis. He has also adhered to the National Front and Tudeh propaganda line that all Great Powers, but especially the US and the UK, (1) follow imperialistic policies, (2) conspire with one another against weak nations, (3) control international organizations for imperialistic purposes, and (4) pursue a foreign policy toward weak nations which is not endorsed by their own public opinion.
- In view of Kashani’s convictions and aspirations, as well as the political forces which would limit his freedom of action, there are no grounds for believing that he could or would wish to promote closer relations between Iran and the UK except if accompanied by further British surrender of power or prestige. Insofar as he regarded US activities as attempts to restore or replace British activities, he would be likely to oppose them.
- A Kashani government might attempt to establish a strong neutral Moslem bloc. Under his guidance, Iranian relations with Turkey and Iraq would not improve as long as Western influence remains strong in these two countries.
- [From the additional notes at the end] The memorandum is attached to a covering sheet in which A.K. Rothnie of the British Foreign Office, indicated that Joseph Palmer of the U.S. Embassy in London had given the assessment to the Foreign Office on May 1. Rothnie also commented that “neither we nor the Americans see any hope in Kashani as a successor to Mussaddiq, nor, a fortiori, do we see any sense in assisting him to power.”
- [From the additional notes at the end] The Foreign Office produced its own assessment of Kashani and handed it to the U.S. Embassy in London on April 16. It concluded that “Kashani would be of no use to us, and almost certainly a hindrance, as a successor to Dr. Mussadiq both generally and in an oil settlement.” In a covering memorandum, A.D.M. Ross of the Foreign Office informed Harold Beeley, the U.K. Counselor in Washington, that “while there is perhaps a chance that he [Kashani] could be brought to power by foreign aid, there is no likelihood of his co-operating with us or of his accomplishing anything of real benefit to Persia. Our friends agree with the paper.”
CIA was recognizing it had little potential to crush the Communist party and Mosaddegh shortly before the 1953 coup in Iran