The Mossadegh - Eisenhower Cables

Feigned Cordiality, A Plea For Aid Rejected — As a Coup Plot Thickens

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | June 26, 2011                        

Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, Prime Minister of Iran and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower

In January 1953, President Harry Truman’s second term was in its final days, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican and former World War II General, was about to succeed him. Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh wasted no time in initiating formal communication with the incoming administration. Eleven days before Ike even took office, Mossadegh cabled him to communicate the urgency of the economic crisis unfolding in Iran. Eisenhower, though noncommittal, responded promptly.

Months passed, and Iran’s economic situation deteriorated further. On May 28th, Mossadegh sent Eisenhower a second message, again seeking America’s sympathy in its conflict with Britain. In what would be his final plea, Mossadegh directly requested help in removing the impediments to Iran’s financial well-being brought about by the boycott of Iranian oil. Failing that, he urged the United States to quickly increase its financial assistance, in order to rescue the nation from a more dire outcome.

This time, Eisenhower was slower to respond. When his eventual reply arrived a month later, Mossadegh was informed that Iran’s request for economic aid would be denied. This was due, Eisenhower claimed, to Iran and Britain’s failure to negotiate a post-nationalization settlement (Eisenhower would later publicly blame Mossadegh for the stalemate, however).

Despite this rejection, Eisenhower feigned a friendly posture of relative neutrality, expressing concern for the welfare of the Iranian people. He suggested that the dispute be “referred to some neutral international body”, overlooking Mossadegh’s prior testimony at two such institutions. The United Nations Security Council had already dismissed the British claim against Iran, as did the International Court at the Hague, which decided that it “lacks jurisdiction”. These outcomes only led the U.K. to resort to more desperate, subversive measures, as Mossadegh indicated in his letter. Regardless, this subject was only mentioned as a ruse. Had either body opposed Iran, Eisenhower surely would have cited it as a reason not to extend aid. Yet since both judgments were ruled in Iran’s favor, Eisenhower simply pretended as though they never happened.

Clearly, Eisenhower never had any hope or intention of seeing Iran’s troubles with Britain mediated by a third party. At the time of his response, he had already authorized the CIA to implement a plan to overthrow Mossadegh. That plan, which succeeded on August 19, 1953, necessarily reversed the nationalization of the British controlled oil industry, leading to a consortium of subsidiary Western companies trading in Iranian oil, including the United States.

By 1954, Eisenhower was already speaking publicly about his exchanges with Mossadegh, and not surprisingly, he laid all the blame squarely on the deposed Premier.

“...Mossadegh balked successive efforts of our Ambassador to find a new basis for settlement of the oil dispute”, claimed the President in his draft speech to the National Governor’s Conference welcoming Iran’s UN Ambassador Nasrollah Entezam. “In May, he declared that no acceptable settlement was possible. And, on the 28th of that month, in a long personal letter to me, he declared flatly that his hopes of a more sympathetic attention by my administration had not been realized.” Eisenhower went on to describe Mossadegh as a dictator propped up by Communists whose reign of turmoil was ended by a “popular groundswell” of royalist/anti-communist street mobs and the Army. After the August 19th coup which brought back the Shah, he added, “I quickly cabled him my congratulations”. Word of Mossadegh’s violent overthrow had been greeted with enthusiasm at the White House. “The news, naturally, was heartening to me”, reminisced Eisenhower.

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower A decade later, Eisenhower, now largely retired from public life, published his Presidential memoirs. The book contained passages from his correspondence with Dr. Mossadegh with additional commentary, though he again omitted any direct or covert U.S role in Mossadegh’s political demise. Nor did he make any attempt to conceal his decisive allegiance with the young Shah. “Throughout this crisis, the United States government had done everything it possibly could to back the Shah”, he wrote. Indeed, the President had already picked his horse in advance, despite his assurances to Mossadegh of having remained unprejudiced.

Eisenhower’s excuses for withholding additional money for Iran vanished immediately after Mossadegh was forced from power. The week of the coup, the Shah’s new Premier, Fazlollah Zahedi, sent his own appeal for money to Eisenhower. “Your request will receive our sympathetic consideration”, he informed Zahedi. On September 5th, he announced that America would be granting $45 million in additional emergency funds. “In all, American aid to Iran that fiscal year came to nearly $85 million”, recalled Eisenhower.

Some may find Mossadegh naieve to have expected the United States to offend its strongest ally for the sake of an underdeveloped Third World nation. Mossadegh clearly held out some hope for such assistance — he appealed to both Truman and Eisenhower for help, never approaching another country similarly. Yet these messages would at least indicate a degree of faith in America that would prove costly — though clearly cognizant of U.S. duplicity, he apparently never even imagined that the Eisenhower administration was actively plotting to have him eliminated •

The Mossadegh Project presents the complete exchange of letters between Mossadegh and Eisenhower for the first time online. They include:

1. Mossadegh’s Message to President Elect Eisenhower — Jan. 9, 1953 (this page)
2. President Elect Eisenhower’s Reply to Mossadegh — Jan. 10, 1953 (this page)
3. Mossadegh’s Final Message To Eisenhower — May 28, 1953
4. Eisenhower’s Final Reply to Mossadegh — June 29, 1953

Mossadegh’s Message To President Eisenhower
January 9, 1953

January 9, 1953

His Excellency
The President Elect of the United States of America
Columbia University
New York City

Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, Prime Minister of Iran

I take this opportunity to convey to you the cordial congratulations of the Iranian people on your election to the high office of President of the United States and to wish you every success in the carrying out of the important tasks which that office imposes.

I dislike taking up with you the problems of my country even before you assume office. I do so partly because of their urgency and partly because I have reason to believe that they have already been presented to you by those who may not share my concern for the future of Iran and its people.

It is my hope that the new administration which you head will obtain at the outset a true understanding of the significance of the vital struggle in which the Iranian people have been engaging and assist in removing the obstacles which are preventing them from realizing their aspirations for the attainment of [omission]1 life as a politically and economically independent nation. For almost two years the Iranian people have suffered acute distress and much misery merely because a company inspired by covetousness and a desire for profit supported by the British Government has been endeavoring to prevent them from obtaining their natural and elementary rights.

I am happy to say that during this struggle so injurious to the people of Iran the American people on many occasions have demonstrated their sympathy for the Iranian nation and an understanding of its problems. I personally witnessed many manifestations of this sympathy and understanding when I was in the United States. Unfortunately the government of the United States, while on occasions displaying friendship for Iran has pursued what appears to the Iranian people to be a policy of supporting the British Government and the former company. In this struggle, it has taken the side of the British Government against that of Iran in international assemblies. It has given financial aid to the British government while withholding it from Iran and it seems to us it has given at least some degree of support to the endeavors of the British to strangle Iran with a financial and economic blockade.

It is not my desire that the relations between the United States and the United Kingdom should be strained because of differences with regard to Iran. I doubt however whether in this day and age a great nation which has such an exalted moral standing in the world can afford to support the internationally immoral policy of a friend and ally merely in order not to disturb good relations with that friend and ally. The Iranian people merely desire to lead their own lives in their own way. They wish to maintain friendly relations with all other peoples. The former company which for years was engaged in exploiting their oil resources, unfortunately persisted in interfering in the internal life of the country.

The Iranian people finally became convinced that so long as this company continued to operate within Iran its systematic interference in Iranian internal life would continue. The Iranian people therefore had no choice other than to exercise their sovereign rights by nationalizing their oil and terminating the activities of the former company in Iran. The Iranian Government made it clear at the time of nationalization that it was willing to pay fair compensation to the former company due consideration being given to such claims and counterclaims as Iran might have against the former company. The former company instead of entering into negotiations with Iran for the purpose of determing the amount of compensation due took steps with the support of the British government to create an economic and financial blockade of Iran with the purpose of forcing the Iranian people again to submit to the will of the former company and to abandon their right to exploit and utilize their own natural resources.

It is my sincere hope that when the new Administration of which you are to be the head will come into power in the United States it will give most careful consideration to the Iranian case so that Iran would be able to attain to its just aspirations in a manner which will strengthen the cause of world peace and will renew confidence in the determination of the United States to support with all its power and prestige the principles of the charter of the United Nations.

Please accept the assurances of my high esteem.

Prime Minister of Iran

1 The word “[omission]” was in the original transcript later released by the U.S. government. It remains unknown what word/words were missing, or why.

Eisenhower’s Reply to Premier Mossadegh
January 10, 1953

January 10, 1953

His Excellency
Prime Minister of Iran
Teheran, Iran

Dwight D. Eisenhower Please accept my thanks for your kind greetings and felicitations. Likewise I am happy to have a summary of your views on your country’s situation and I shall study these views with care and with sympathetic concern. I hope you will accept my assurances that I have in no way compromised our position of impartiality in this matter and that no individual has attempted to prejudice me in this matter. This leads me to observe that I hope our own future relationships will be completely free of any suspicion, but on the contrary will be characterized by confidence and trust inspired by frankness and friendliness. I shall be delighted to receive either personally and directly or through established diplomatic channels at any time a communication regarding your views on any subject in which we may have a common interest.

With renewed thanks for the kindly courtesy of your message and with expression of my continued esteem.



All four messages were distributed in a White House press release on July 9th. They were also published in the Department of State Bulletin, July 20, 1953, in reverse chronological order, under the heading “U.S. Position on Iranian Oil Dispute”.

Eisenhower on Correspondence With Mossadegh
Excerpted from The White House Years: Mandate For Change (1963)

Mandate For Change The Iranian problem had come to my personal attention even before I was inaugurated. While President of Columbia University, I met the young Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi. At the time I developed—on short acquaintance—some confidence that he would prove an effective leader of his people. Then, early in January of 1953, while I was still living on the Columbia University campus, I received a cable from Premier Mossadegh, who by that time was ruling the country by decree. In his cable, three pages long, he congratulated me on the election results, and then plunged into an extended dissertation on the problems of Iran, which he feared had already been presented to me by those who did not see eye to eye with him on his country’s future:

I dislike taking up with you the problems of my country even before you assume office. I do so partly because of their urgency and partly because I have reason to believe that they have already been presented to you by those who may not share my concern for the future of Iran and its people.

It is my hope that the new administration which you head will obtain at the outset a true understanding of the significance of the vital struggle in which the Iranian people have been engaging and assist in removing the obstacles which are preventing them from realizing their aspirations for the attainment of . . . life as a politically and economically independent nation. For almost two years the Iranian people have suffered acute distress and much misery merely because a company inspired by covetousness and a desire for profit supported by the British government has been endeavoring to prevent them from obtaining their natural and elementary rights.

I immediately assured Dr. Mossadegh in an answering cable that I had in no way compromised a position of impartiality and that no one had attempted to prejudice me in the matter. I expressed the hope that our own future relationships would be completely free of any suspicion, and said I would be delighted to receive either personally and directly, or through established diplomatic channels, any communication of his views on any subject in which we might have a common interest.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

On May 28, Premier Mossadegh once again wrote me a long personal message, referring back to his earlier communication:

During the few months that have elapsed since the date of that message the Iranian people have been suffering financial hardships and struggling with political intrigues carried on by the former oil company and the British government. For instance, the purchasers of Iranian oil have been dragged from one court to another, and all means of propaganda and diplomacy have been employed in order to place illegal obstacles in the way of the sale of Iranian oil. Although the Italian and Japanese courts have declared Iranian oil to be free and unencumbered, the British have not as yet abandoned their unjust and unprincipled activities.

Although it was hoped that during Your Excellency’s administration attention of a more sympathetic character would be devoted to the Iranian situation, unfortunately no change seems thus far to have taken place in the position of the American government. . . .

As a result of action taken by the former company and the British government, the Iranian nation is now facing great economic and political difficulties. There can be serious consequences, from an international viewpoint as well, if this situation is permitted to continue. If prompt and effective aid is not given to this country now, any steps that might be taken tomorrow to compensate for the negligence of today might well be too late. . . .

Then he made a direct appeal:

The Iranian nation hopes that with the help and assistance of the American government the obstacles placed in the way of the sale of Iranian oil can be removed, and that if the American government is not able to effect a removal of such obstacles, it can render effective economic assistance to enable Iran to utilize her other resources. This country has natural resources other than oil. The exploitation of these resources would solve the present difficulties of the country. This, however, is impossible without economic aid.

In conclusion, I invite Your Excellency’s sympathetic and responsive attention to the present dangerous situation of Iran, and I trust that you will ascribe to all the points contained in this message the importance due them. . . .

I refused, however, to pour more American money into a country in turmoil in order to bail Mossadegh out of troubles rooted in his refusal to work out an agreement with the British. Accordingly, on June 29, I replied:

The failure of Iran and of the United Kingdom to reach an agreement with regard to compensation has handicapped the government of the United States in its efforts to help Iran. There is a strong feeling in the United States, even among American citizens most sympathetic to Iran and friendly to the Iranian people, that it would not be fair to the American taxpayers for the United States Government to extend any considerable amount of economic aid to Iran so long as Iran could have access to funds derived from the sale of its oil and oil products if a reasonable agreement were reached with regard to compensation whereby the large-scale marketing of Iranian oil would be resumed. Similarly, many American citizens would be deeply opposed to the purchase by the United States Government of Iranian oil in the absence of an oil settlement. . . .

I fully understand that the Government of Iran must determine for itself which foreign and domestic policies are likely to be most advantageous to Iran and to the Iranian people. In what I have written, I am not trying to advise the Iranian government on its best interests. I am merely trying to explain why, in the circumstances, the government of the United States is not presently in a position to extend more aid to Iran or to purchase Iranian oil.

In case Iran should so desire, the United States Government hopes to be able to continue to extend technical assistance and military aid on a basis comparable to that given during the past year.

John Foster Dulles: The Last Year (1963)
by his sister Eleanor Lansing Dulles, foreword by Eisenhower

John Foster Dulles: The Last Year (1963) During the temporary interregnum of November 1952, when General Eisenhower and Foster were working together at the Hotel Commodore, a Western Union telegram of four or five pages came in from Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran, then a revolt-ridden country. It asked what the attitude of the new Administration would be toward his country. Foster and the General were astonished, for it was highly unusual to be addressed by a government on a serious matter outside the State Department channels. Moreover, the matter would normally be considered top secret. No notice was ever taken of this perhaps unique incident. When the Secretary-designate had time to sit down to consider the reply, he was interrupted by one of the aides with a message. The President-elect had scribbled on the piece of paper something to the effect that “I had a free hour so I tried my hands at an answer.” The Secretary read it and exclaimed, “For gosh sakes! He doesn’t need a Secretary of State—this is a perfect answer!” They sent the answer in the same way the message had come in, uncoded, by Western Union. The work of the two men, each supporting the other, had begun.

Mossadegh & Arbenz & Lumumba & Sukarno & Allende... shirts

Mossadegh & Arbenz & Lumumba & Sukarno & Allende... t-shirts

The U.S.-Britain Alliance To Erase Mossadegh Was Not Inevitable
The U.S.-Britain Alliance To Erase Mossadegh Was Not Inevitable


Related links:

Mossadegh’s Biggest U.S. Supporter: Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

“The Things We Did Were Covert” — Eisenhower’s Diary Confession of CIA Coup in Iran

Shah Demands More U.S. Aid To Preserve World Peace (1956 Eisenhower-Shah Messages)

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

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