Shah Demands More U.S. Aid To Preserve World Peace
Eisenhower’s Reassuring Rejection Letter (1956)

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | December 18, 2017                     

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Dwight D. Eisenhower

During the Cold War, the U.S. government viewed Iran as one of the most critically sensitive spots in the world, and its young sovereign, Mohammad Reza Shah, made sure to regularly remind them of this fact.

In a 1956 letter ostensibly meant to congratulate President Dwight D. Eisenhower on his re-election, the Shah soon came to his actual purpose in writing: more free stuff, please. Iran deserved additional economic and military aid, he reasoned, because her security was effectively the load-bearing wall of the entire region, and consequently, all of human civilization. He insisted that the President specially assign a representative to study the special importance of Iran, closing his message with the odd flourish, “Believe me my dear President”.

The State Department mulled over the Shah’s requests as they studied the financial aid issue, and in a Dec. 7th letter, Sec. of State John Foster Dulles advised Eisenhower on what to say in response.

Dulles was already convinced that Iran was of critical significance. “I do not believe that we can afford to delay or temporize on this matter”, wrote Dulles in a separate memo written the same day. “Iran, along with its Baghdad Pact neighbors, constitutes one of the best political assets the United States has in the area at this time. Iran is a vital and exposed part of the Middle East and must be dealt with, not solely on the basis of its own internal requirements within its own narrow frontiers, but on the basis of the requirements of United States interests in a most dangerously threatened area of the world.”

Given the circumstances, Dulles proposed that the proposed $45 million in aid to Iran for fiscal year 1957 be announced immediately “to obtain maximum political effect.”

Enclosed with Dulles’ memo to the President was a draft reply letter (it is not indicated whether or not he wrote it, but the U.S. Ambassador to Iran, Selden Chapin, made a small revision at the end). Chapin would receive the message by telegram first and summarize it to the Shah, and a signed copy of the letter would follow.

Eisenhower approved the tactfully phrased reply, denying each of the Shah’s demands in letter but not in spirit, on December 12th.

370. Letter From Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to President Eisenhower

Tehran, November 20, 1956.

My Dear Mr. President:

The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi I am happy to congratulate you most warmly on your recent successful campaign, and on the American People’s wise choice in selecting you again to guide the destinies of the United States for another presidential term.

Innumerable anxious minds abroad were, indeed, set at rest when the election results were formally made known, for in no other period of human history has so much depended on one man and on one country.

We pray God to bestow upon you health and strength to carry through with wisdom your immense responsibilities at a time when civilization itself is being threatened with utter destruction.

Recent regrettable events in the Middle East and in Europe, tragic as they are, have, in our opinion, amply demonstrated that in this age of atomic warfare, the occurrence of regional armed conflicts with conventional weapons is not to be ruled out as a thing of the past. In fact, prolonged localized fighting, without resort to the use of nuclear weapons, may continue to take place, and only countries prepared for any emergency can hope to survive or to be able to bear the brunt of initial onslaughts, which, if not effectively met in time, are likely to lead to disastrous consequences.

Indeed, aggression itself can be forestalled, if countries occupying key positions are well prepared and their military as well as financial and economic needs supplied. That Iran occupies such a position in this region and that she must be assisted to grow and stay strong has too often been stressed to need further emphasis.

The present military weakness of Iran would, in the event of an atomic or non-atomic clash of arms, constitute a danger not only to herself, but also to the Middle East region and, as a corollary, to the whole free world.

I feel confident that, from time to time, your diplomatic and military missions in this country do not fail to report to you on the economic and military conditions of Iran, and as to the degree American aid has contributed to the improvement of these conditions. We highly value your government’s generous assistance.

Nevertheless, in fairness to the cause of world peace and of the preservation of stability in this area, I must say that we are sadly lacking in preparation to face any situation which may suddenly arise in these critical and uncertain times.

It has been my view, and still is, that Iran has not received the attention her unique position demands. My earnest desire is that this matter may receive the close scrutiny it deserves.

The matter is of such immediate importance that, to my mind, it would justify the sending of a special and personal representative of the President to examine the situation carefully.

I need hardly point out that Iranian public opinion will be considerably reassured if, at this critical juncture, increased American aid, designed to further improve conditions in my country, both economically and militarily, is forthcoming.

I know full well that you have always shown keen interest in the welfare of Iran and in the strengthening of her resources. At no time has she needed this more, owing to her strategic and geographic position which makes her practically the shield of the Middle East.

Believe me my dear Mr. President

Yours sincerely,

M.R. Pahlavi

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957, Near East Region; Iran; Iraq, Volume XII (1991)

• “Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International Series... The salutation, the two lines of the complimentary close, and the signature are handwritten.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian

374. Memorandum From the Secretary of State to the President

Washington, December 7, 1956.


         Suggested Reply to a Letter from the Shah of Iran

Sec. of State John Foster Dulles In his letter to you, dated November 20, 1956, the Shah of Iran offered his congratulations for your recent re-election.

The Shah took the occasion to refer to recent events in the Middle East and Europe and to draw your attention to Iran’s strategic position, its military weakness and need for increased military, economic and financial aid. He suggested that you send a personal representative to Iran to examine the situation.

This letter is similar to previous requests by the Shah. I do not believe your response should include new offers of aid or acceptance of the proposal to send a personal representative. We are going forward with substantial military and economic aid programs. Since Iran’s real problem stems from its exposed strategic position and sense of insecurity, we believe that the November 29 Department of State press release on the Baghdad Pact will be of considerable help.

I suggest that your reply be responsive to the Shah’s genuine fears but that the point be made that Iran’s true safety lies in collective security and cooperation with the Free World. I also suggest that, in line with the recent press release, you affirm personally to the Shah the gravity with which the United States would view a threat to the territorial integrity or political independence of Iran.

Enclosed is a suggested reply from you to the Shah. If you agree, Ambassador Chapin [Selden Chapin, U.S. Ambassador to Iran] will be authorized to convey the text of this letter to the Shah, mentioning that it will be followed shortly by the signed original.

John Foster Dulles

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957, Near East Region; Iran; Iraq, Volume XII (1991)
[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• “On November 29, the Department of State issued a press release which paid tribute to the Baghdad Pact counties for their determination to uphold the United Nations Charter “to further a peaceful and lasting settlement of current Middle Eastern problems.” The press release noted that the representatives of Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran had met twice in the past weeks “in order to bring to bear both their influence and wisdom in the interest of the nations of the free world.” The United States reaffirmed its support for the Baghdad Pact and for the “collective efforts of these nations to maintain their independence. A threat to the territorial integrity or political independence of the members would be viewed by the United States with the utmost gravity.” (Department of State Press Release No. 604, November 29; printed in Department of State Bulletin, December 10, 1956, page 918)” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian (152. Editorial Note)

Letter From President Eisenhower to Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower Your Imperial Majesty: Thank you most sincerely for your letter of November twentieth and for your kind words about my re-election.

Your views regarding recent events in Europe and in the Middle East I have read with care and with great interest. As we face the dangers of which you speak, there can be no doubt in our minds that the free world must base its hopes for peace more and more upon the joint efforts of free nations and upon their regional associations.

Iran can indeed be proud of the part it is playing, along with its neighbors, in the efforts to restore peace and to maintain security in the Middle East. Given close cooperation between free nations in collective efforts to maintain peace, even the largest nations cannot act with impunity and the nations that may be exposed to danger are not alone. The validity of this principle was clearly demonstrated in 1946, when Iran regained sovereign control over its northwest territories. [Referencing the post-WWII Azerbaijan Crisis, when Soviet troops refused to leave Iran as promised, leading to a showdown at the U.N.]

I have especially noted Your Majesty’s words about the lack of preparation to face a sudden emergency. This is, indeed, a problem of mutual concern. The United States has in recent years attempted to assist Iran in strengthening its economy and its armed forces. Such assistance will, of course, continue, insofar as our capabilities and the requirements of the rest of the free world will permit. I am confident that with continued close cooperation between the Government of Iran and the various United States Missions in Iran this aid will produce even more important gains for Iran than have been registered in the past.

The needs of Iran and the demands of her unique position in the Middle East are being given our constant attention. Our Ambassador and the members of our missions have reported fully on the requirements of Iran and the problems with which it is faced. Moreover, the Congress is soon to have the benefit of Mr. Armour’s special study of conditions. [Norman Armour, Consultant to the Senate Senate Foreign Relations Committee Studying the Mutual Security Program] In the circumstances, I do not believe a special representative is required for further study at this time.

The causes of the dangers which have threatened the Middle East and the means of dealing with them are being given the most careful and urgent consideration by the United States Government. The firm and helpful position adopted by Iran is one of the very reassuring elements in the present situation. I continue to regard any threats to Iran’s territorial integrity and political independence as a matter of the utmost gravity.

With best wishes and warmest regard,


Dwight D. Eisenhower

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957, Near East Region; Iran; Iraq, Volume XII (1991). Sample letter was enclosed with Dulles’ letter.
[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• “Transmitted initially in telegram 1111 to Tehran, December 10. (Department of State, Central Files, 711.11–EI/12–1056)”

“The last two sentences in this letter as transmitted to Tehran in telegram 1111 originally read as follows: “The firm and helpful position adopted by Iran is one of the very reassuring elements in the present situation and, for this reason, I continue to regard any threats to Iran’s territorial integrity and political independence as a matter of the utmost gravity.” As Chapin pointed out in telegram 895 from Tehran, December 11, the sentence was misleading and ill-constructed, equating Iranian help in the Suez crisis with support for Iran’s territorial integrity. Chapin suggested elimination of the phrase “and, for that reason,” and beginning a new sentence with “I continue.” According to telegram 1126 to Tehran, December 12, the President approved the change. Telegrams 895 from Tehran and 1126 to Tehran are both Ibid., 711.11–EI/12–1156” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian


Related links:

Iranian Political Stability Threatened by Shah’s Determination to Rule Supreme | NSC, 1957

Ahmad Ghavam Seeks U.S. Help To Become Premier | State Dept. Letter, April 1, 1952

Stability of Shah’s Regime Questioned | NSC Memo, April 1960

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

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