Amb. Henry F. Grady Quits Iran

“Toughest Job I Have Ever Undertaken”

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | November 29, 2023                    

President Harry S. Truman and Ambassador Henry F. Grady

When Henry F. Grady (1882-1957) was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Iran on June 29, 1950, he could not have anticipated the drama that would soon encircle him. His post soon coincided with Premier Ali Razmara’s assassination, the huge oil nationalization dispute and the rise of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh as Prime Minister and world figure.

From the beginning, Grady only expected to be in Iran for a year, and indeed by June 1951, reports began to circulate that he would soon be replaced. Yet due to the extraordinary circumstances in Iran, it was decided that Grady stay on longer and not change horses midstream. Adding to the challenge was his own dissonance — Grady’s approach to the delicate diplomatic situation annoyed not only Britain, but most notably his boss, Secretary of State Dean Acheson.

So what was the approximate cause of Grady’s decision to tender his resignation in August of 1951? As multiple factors converged, it’s hard to pin it on one thing. Consider the following sequence of events:

On June 9, 1951, Baltimore’s The Evening Sun reported:

Grady Reported “Invited Out”

Thomas O’Neill, Sun staff correspondent, reported from Tehran yesterday that United States Ambassador Henry F. Grady has bowed out as a mediator in the oil dispute after a British request to the effect that he “mind his own business.” The dispatch said Sir Francis Shepherd, British Ambassador to Iran, told Grady that his efforts to bring the parties together had “embarrassed” the British and placed their negotiators in an “awkward position.”

However, in a July 14th press conference in Tehran called largely to address resignation rumors, Grady explained:

“I am not going to walk out . . . I believe that both the State Department and the White House want me to stay. I will not leave here in any way which would embarrass my Government. My personal wishes are entirely secondary.”

How long would he remain? Predicted Grady:

“I will not leave in less than a few months and maybe longer than that.”

Yet in his unfinished memoir, the retired Grady later recalled:

“The parties to the dispute were moving further apart. My formal resignation was asked for by the state department, and I cabled it in, resigning as ambassador to Iran but not from the government. Again I expressed the view that I should stay on for the time being at least. By now my successor had been announced, and I was shortly on my way back to Washington. However, I left with the good will of the Iranian people and, I hope, with their attitude toward my country not too unfriendly. When I saw the Shah to say goodbye, he said, “The British have turned against us. Apparently, the Americans have also. We do not wish to turn toward the Russians. Where then shall we go?”

“My withdrawal from Iran was inevitable because I am convinced that the British were making a real issue of it. My relations with Acheson had been steadily worsening. He had rejected a number of recommendations that I had made, in some cases with evident irritation, and since I felt as strongly as I did about the whole matter, my replies to some of his sharp wires reflected my irritation in return.”

Grady clearly wanted to be transferred to Japan, the post he repeatedly said was promised him by Dean Acheson, though he concluded in his memoir that Acheson reneged rather spitefully:

“I did not realize until I arrived in Washington the extent of the resentment of Acheson and, by reflection, of some of his associates toward me. Acheson was at last becoming worried about the Iranian debacle, and as he has done with others on other occasions, he endeavored to make me the scapegoat. As a condition of my going to Iran in 1950, Acheson had definitely promised that I would be made the first ambassador to Japan when the time arrived to appoint one. This was a post that I was most anxious to have. When I saw him on my return from Iran, he informed me that although he had made this promise he did not intend to carry it out—that he was now thinking in terms of “another type of representative.” Apparently, if I had been appointed to Japan, it would have been a vindication of my position in Iran and this the secretary emphatically did not want. So, having “failed” in Iran, I was “retired.”

Compare Grady’s claims with this rather astute item from the time in Town Journal:

HENRY F. GRADY IS LIKELY TO BE STATE DEPARTMENT’S “fall guy” for the failure of Iran to come to terms with Britain over oil. W. Averell Harriman, President Truman’s trouble-shooter who took over the talks after Grady’s hurried resignation as Ambassador to Iran, couldn’t be scapegoat. So Grady, 69, may soon retire from active diplomacy—instead of going to Tokyo as our first postwar Ambassador Japan, as Secretary Acheson had once promised.”

Grady to Tokyo? Grady submitted his curt resignation letter to Pres. Harry Truman on August 24th, the text of which, along with Truman’s reply, were quoted in the press. “The shift in top diplomatic personnel was made with the usual dead-pan politeness”, commented Newsweek. Grady’s “long-expected resignation”, noted The Economist “...has at last taken place”.

The media was not privy, however, to his frank and vulnerable cover letter conveying his thoughts and frustrations on the matter, nor his not-so-subtle hint that he be appointed to Japan. That never materialized, and in the coming years, he became more and more outspoken against U.S. foreign policy in Iran from the sidelines. The apex was his widely quoted magazine article What Went Wrong In Iran?.

Grady and his wife boarded the flight home to San Francisco on September 19, 1951, what would turn out to be his last day as a U.S. diplomat or government official.

A year later, Grady’s “Headaches of an Ambassador” ran in the November 15, 1952 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Miffed by the article and its insinuations about Dean Acheson, Pres. Truman shot back with a testy letter in objection. “I’m still grateful for India, Greece and Iran”, he wrote, “but I wish you could have understood better the President’s problems.”

In reply, Grady redoubled his now familiar attack: “I emphatically do not share your enthusiasm for Dean. The failure in Iran is largely his failure, and I feel I must speak out. He was responsible for underwriting a British policy that went directly counter to the Truman Doctrine that so highly succeeded in Greece.”

U.S. State Department | IRAN Documents
Pres. Harry Truman letters, speeches, etc.

Tehran, Iran
August 24, 1951

My dear Mr. President:

This has been an extremely difficult assignment and Averell and General Landry, when they return, will be able to tell you something of the complexities of the situation here. It has been the toughest job I have ever undertaken. [Averell Harriman and Robert B. Landry, U.S. Air Force, who joined the Harriman delegation to Iran in mid July]

I reminded the State Department last May of the fact that I had come here to stay no longer than a year. It was anticipated that we would have our economic program well under way in a few months’ time and I could then appropriately leave. The economic program has been only a shadow of what we had hoped and planned.

When the situation became more tense here last June, due to the oil controversy, I wrote the Department and said that I did not wish to leave under the difficulties facing the Embassy. I suggested deferring my relief from this post for the time being. However, a report given by McGhee in a secret session of the Senate Committee was at once given to the press and it is widely understood here that I am to leave and that Henderson is to be my successor. [George C. McGhee, Amb. Loy W. Henderson]

The situation is very embarrassing to me because I do not wish to appear to be retreating under fire. On the other hand, my personal desires are to get home, for my own sake as well as Lucretia’s. [His wife, Lucretia del Valle]

I am attaching a resignation as Ambassador to Iran at the suggestion of the State Department, but I wish you to take my resignation in the spirit which I have described above.

Dean assured me at the time I accepted this post that he would recommend me to you as the first Ambassador to Japan. [Sec. of State Dean Acheson] If it is your wish for me to serve in that capacity, I should be most happy to do so. It is always a great pleasure for me to serve you. If it worked out that way and you could announce my selection at the San Francisco Conference, it would greatly please my fellow-San Franciscans and fellow-Californians.

With assurances of my highest esteem, I remain

Faithfully yours,

        Letter of resignation

• Source: Documentary History of the Truman Presidency (1995)
[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

Tehran, Iran
August 24, 1951

My dear Mr. President:

I wish to tender to you my resignation as Ambassador to Iran effective when you desire it to be.

It has been a great honor for me to serve under you, our Commander-in-Chief, in the cold war in this critical zone.

With assurances of my highest esteem, I remain

Faithfully yours,

Henry F. Grady
Ambassador to Iran

The Honorable [Harry S. Truman]

        The President of the United States,

                 The White House,


• Source: Documentary History of the Truman Presidency (1995)
[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]


August 30, 1951

My dear Mr. Grady:

It is with the greatest reluctance that I accept your resignation as Ambassador to Iran, effective on a date to be established after your return to the United States.

I want you to know that I am most appreciative of the distinguished service you have rendered to your country as American Chief of Mission in India, Greece, and more recently in Iran. You have demonstrated a willingness and patriotism of outstanding quality in undertaking these difficult and important assignments.

I particularly commend your skillful diplomacy which has strengthened the possibility of a peaceful and equitable settlement of the oil controversy in Iran. As you return to private life, you carry with you my best wishes for your health and happiness in the years to come.

Very sincerely yours,
Harry Truman

Honorable Henry F. Grady
American Ambassador to Iran.

• Source: Documentary History of the Truman Presidency (1995)
[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

October 10, 1951


Mr. CHIPERFIELD: [Congressman Robert B. Chiperfield of Illinois] What happened to Mr. Grady in this picture? I do not mean it in a derogatory sense. Was he in bad with the Iranians, or was it the thought there should be a new face over there?

Mr. McGHEE: [George C. McGhee, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs] Mr. Chiperfield, that is a simple story. I will be glad to explain it to you. There has been a lot of speculation in the press. He was pulled out of Greece to go to Iran at a critical time, when we were attempting a new policy toward Iran, which we hoped would result in doing something to alleviate that situation.

I have discussed that program with your committee. Dr. Grady went reluctantly because he is not a young man and he has been in tough spots for a long time so he went only if he could be relieved at the end of a year. That year was up in March. [Actually June]

Dr. Grady wrote us in March that he wanted to be relieved. This was after the oil crisis had started and after Razmara was assassinated. We asked him to stay through the present crisis. He wrote several more letters and with increasing forcefulness said he wanted to be relieved. He said that he would stay over any immediate crisis, but the time had come when felt he must be relieved.

The crisis in Iran has been in existence for some time, and it is going to be in existence for some time in the future. You would have to make the change in any event. At the time we made it, it was due to the availability of Mr. Loy W. Henderson and the availability of Mr. Chester Bowles. [Bowles replaced Henderson in India]

All of these things have to be arranged in accordance with the people involved and with the approval of Congress. The precise time that it happened was in accordance with the changes. It had nothing to do with Mr. Grady. We would have liked to have him stay in Iran.

Mr. CHIPERFIELD: Do you consult with him?

Mr. McGHEE: Yes.

Mr. CHIPERFIELD: He made a good impression on television, I think.

Mr. McGHEE: I myself have the greatest confidence in Mr. Grady. I was in the Greek aid program when he was Administrator. It was a tough job to get him to go to Iran. We would like to have Dr. Grady stay there as long as he would like to. There is no implication here.

There was a little talk in the press arising out of the fact that he was relieved. That always embarrasses an ambassador when the situation arises, when the fact becomes known he is leaving. How you keep things quiet like that I do not know, particularly when you have a complicated situation involving Mr. Bowles, Mr. Henderson, and Mr. Grady.

• Source: Excerpted from Selected Executive Session Hearings of the Committee, 1951-1956, U.S. Congress, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]


Related links:

Henry Grady on British Colonialism (Letter to The Washington Post, March 20, 1953)

Underwriting Colonialism | Hamilton Butler on Iran (Jan. 6, 1952)

Amb. Henry Grady Reports on Meeting With Premier Mossadegh (July 29, 1951)

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

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